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Collbran Job Corps Astronomy Club uses big telescope to see deep into the night skies

COLORADO – A glance at the night sky will reveal a fascinating array of stars, planets and passing meteors. Collbran Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Astronomy Club members have a front row seat to soak in these sites thanks to its Obsession Dobsonian Telescope.

Collbran Job Corps CCC students gather each week to master core skills needed to use the telescope, which is optimized for observing faint, deep-sky objects such as nebulae and galaxies. The telescope is the largest privately-owned telescope on Colorado’s Western Slope.

“This telescope is amazing – it was intimidating at first, but now it’s pretty easy to use,” said Braelin Byrne. “I’m currently the expert ‘Saturn locator’. It’s easy to find now that I know what to look for.”

Astronomy club members kicked off November viewing the Taurids Meteor Shower which peaked on November 5, 2019. Club members are currently working on locating the Andromeda Galaxy—a challenge that the Obsession Dobsonian Telescope can easily meet. They have also been busy viewing Venus, the brightest planet in the earth’s Solar System, along with Jupiter and Saturn.

November will continue to offer up amazing opportunities for club members to view and ponder what lies above us, including the Leonids Meteor Shower, the Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, and Mercury sitting at its highest point above the horizon as it reaches its greatest western elongation from the Sun.

Students aligning a telescope
On June 3, 2019, after collimating Collbran Job Corps’ Obsession Dobsonian Telescope, student Braelin Byrne lines up Saturn in the viewing field of the telescope. Students Chris Greenhalgh and Mark Durazo observe. Photo courtesy of Lorraine Zentz.
Moon seen trhough telescope
The Moon on September 2, 2019. Photo courtesy of Chris Greenhalgh, taken through an Obsession Dobsonian Telescope.

Not only have students mastered the skills needed to use the telescope, club members Mark Durazo, Chris Greenhalgh and Braelin Byrne, along with fellow members of the Grand Junction Astronomy Club, have constructed a telescope from scratch.

Astronomy club members’ ability to star gaze is further enhanced because Collbran Job Corps Center is surrounded by dark sky with no light pollution—a huge benefit when viewing stellar objects in the sky. Club members have taken their telescope 10,000 feet up the Grand Mesa for even more spectacular views.

The Astronomy Club opened up a new world for Collbran students, formerly surrounded by big city lights that obscured the stars. “I never thought I could see actual planets! Saturn is so cool,” said Izzy Robeson.

So what’s next on the agenda? Collbran students are eagerly anticipating the Geminids, which will occur from December 13th through 14th. At 100 to 120 meteors per hours, the Geminids is the biggest meteor shower in the Solar System. Now that Collbran students have what lies above them, even without the aid of an Obsession Dobsonian Telescope, they will never again look at the night sky without wonder and contemplation.

Collbran Job Corps CCC is currently ranked number five out of 119 Job Corps centers nationwide. It has an exceptional track record of preparing students with the education and career technical skills training sought after on national forests and grasslands. For over 50 years, Forest Service Job Corps CCCs have provided leading-edge vocational training and pathways out of poverty to underserved youth, while assisting in the conservation of public natural resources. Their mission directly supports the agency’s goals of sustaining our nation’s forests and grasslands and delivering benefits to the public.

Gruop photo in front of telescope
Collbran Job Corps Astronomy Club members take a group photo on the Grand Mesa on September 9, on an evening perfect for star gazing: From left, (front row) Grand Mesa High School/Collbran Job Corps Science Teacher Lorraine Zentz and Collbran students Mark Durazo, Sierra Lewis-Sweed, Izzy Robeson, (back row) Chris Greenhalgh and Braelin Byrne. Photo courtesy of Chris Greenhalgh.