Cloudbait Location

Moonrise behind Pikes Peak.
Moonrise behind Pikes Peak.

Cloudbait Observatory is located in the Colorado Rockies, 40 km west of Pikes Peak. The nearest large city is Colorado Springs, on the east side of the Peak, which has very poor lighting practices. Nevertheless, the intervening mountains, high altitude (2767 m), and dry air serve to control the city's light dome, which rarely exceeds an altitude of 10°. A faint dome is sometimes seen from Denver, 110 km to the north, and on long exposure photographs I can detect some light from Pueblo, 100 km southeast. Overall, the skies here are very dark, with a typical limiting magnitude of 6.5. The zenithal sky brightness is 21.2 mag/arcsec2. This is approaching the darkest possible skies, about 21.5 mag/arcsec2.

This section of the country is frequently under the center of the jet stream, which degrades the steadiness of the air. For centuries, poets have expressed delight over the twinkling stars, but to an astronomer that twinkling represents unsteady air, and consequently bad seeing. During the winter months, typical seeing in this region is 3 arc seconds; during the summer it is slightly better. This limits high resolution imaging to a relatively small number of steady nights.

The common perception of the Colorado Rockies is of an area under deep snow during a long winter. This is true for many areas west of the Continental Divide, but Cloudbait is on the east side, and there is little moisture here. Climatically, this is a high altitude desert, with very little annual precipitation. Standing snow is uncommon. Winter temperatures can be as low as -30°C, although -5°C is more typical. Summer evenings are usually about 10°C. We are usually only slightly impacted by the summer monsoon flow that causes large thunderstorms over Arizona and New Mexico. We will see some afternoon storms, but these usually clear up by early evening. In most years, we have over 300 sunny days each year, and a similar number of nights clear enough to view or image at least part of the sky.

South Park. Really.

South Park Cartoon
Kenny, killed by the Mir space station.

Our local town is Guffey, with a population of 35. The largest meteorite ever recovered in Colorado, the Guffey iron, was found in the surrounding hills. The area has several hundred residents, and constitutes an island of progressive thinking and tolerance in an otherwise very conservative region. Guffey itself is in Park County, but is geographically isolated from the rest of the county, most of which which lies in a vast, high altitude valley called South Park. Yes, this is indeed the very same South Park made famous by Comedy Central. Fans of the cartoon visiting the county seat, Fairplay, might find it eerily familiar...