AZTEC, N.M. - The Perseid meteor shower rained down on planet Earth in early August, and some New Mexicans were fortunate enough to see the show among the work of the ancients.
Among the increasingly popular night events at Aztec Ruins National Monument, visitors were allowed in after park hours to sit with rangers and view the meteor shower from within the walls of the 900-year-old monument. During the event, which park rangers called their "Shooting Star Party," visitors of all ages were welcomed to the park for free to engage in several educational activities to learn about the history of nocturnal navigation, what a meter shower actually is and the relevance of the stars to cultures native and abroad. Talks began at 9 p.m. Friday (Aug. 11) as rangers pointed out a mysterious light flying across the night sky, which was none other than the International Space Station zooming past overhead.
"We build our events to where everybody that shows up can be able to see what we have to share," said Danielle York, a park ranger. According to York, community events (such as the star party and full-moon tours) at the site have become more popular in recent years. While the "Shooting Star Party" was the first event to commemorate the annual meteor shower, York sad the park has plans to keep the event going for the future.
Aztec Ruins National Monument, just north of the main drag of Aztec, New Mexico, holds an ancestral pueblo site dating back to the years of the Chaco Canyon builders. The site holds several ancient buildings and a variety of excavated ceremonial kivas, where the ancestral pueblo people would have held religious and community events. The "Shooting Star Party" was held on the grounds just behind the reconstructed version of the Great Kiva at the site and allowed visitors to see the night skies as the ancients may have viewed them.
Though minor cloud cover blocked some of the views of the meteor shower, rangers at the event were quick to keep the entertainment going for the crowd of nearly 100 people at the party. Scientific explanations and a comet-making demonstration were set up to keep kids and adults on their toes and engaged as the rangers waited for the skies to clear. In addition, walk-throughs of a select portion of the monument were allowed for those wishing to have a special guided walk through the site as they waited for some of the other activities.
"We came out for just the fact of something local with extracurricular activities to teach the kids about the stars and history and astronomy," said Farmington resident Arianne Moore. "I think it's totally cool and really neat how they go into the different cultures and the different stories and the different meanings."
Moore brought her son along with a friend to the event and says events like the "Shooting Star Party" are frequent in her event planner.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year in August and is visible from the monument on a clear night. While the shower was visible all weekend, the park held extended hours just for the party, which allowed visitors the opportunity to see the shower on the edge of town with fewer lights in to blot out the sky.
"The experience of seeing any type of night sky event from an ancestral pueblo great house site is unparalleled," said York. "I would definitely recommend for everyone to enjoy the night skies, but especially to enjoy them from historic sites."
For more information on upcoming events at the Aztec Ruins National Monument, visit the location's website at nps.gov/azru/index.htm.