Amateur astronomers ID mysterious bright object in COS skies

“When in doubt, call an amateur.”

This may not be good advice for neurosurgery or airline piloting, but it was just the ticket for identifying a mysterious, bright object in the early evening skies over Colorado Springs. While visiting family in Springs they shared with me an article in Saturday’s Colorado Springs Gazette, prompted by an email from a reader who had spotted said object for several days running and urged the paper to investigate, insisting adamantly that “it is not the planet Venus.”

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Reporter Tom Roeder consulted local Navy and Air Force experts on flying things as well as an astronomer from the University of Colorado. Two of the three figured it was Venus, but demurred from making definitive statements to that effect because identifying strange, bright objects isn’t necessarily squarely within their bailiwicks.

As people who know them recognize, amateur astronomers have no such reservations. Roeder called Alan Gorski of the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, who, after a little double checking, confirmed that the bright light is Venus, despite the assessment by the Gazette reader.

When my mother-in-law mentioned the article I, too, immediately concluded it is Venus. Readers occasionally write Seattle Astronomy with what-is-it questions, and it’s almost always either Venus or Jupiter. The King of Planets is also up in the evening these days, rising in the eastern sky a bit before 8:30 p.m. It was a nice sight shining in mostly clear skies last night.

Colorado Springs has some good potential for stargazing, as it is at just over 6,000 feet in elevation and has some pretty clear horizons, especially to the east. But alas, with a population of more than 430,000 the light pollution in the city, while not quite so bad as our home base in West Seattle, is pretty robust. The Colorado Springs Astronomical Society owns a dark-sky observing site near the town of Gardner, Colorado, a little over 100 miles south of The Springs and closest to the city of Walsenberg. The site is home to the annual Rocky Mountain Star Stare.