The volunteer-run, non-profit organization, Northern Colorado Astronomical Society (NCAS), has been dedicated to learning and teaching about the night sky for 19 years. They provide public star gazing events, monthly astronomical lectures and educational events for schools across the region. NCAS wants to be sure anyone with the desire can not only identify the aforementioned bright object as Jupiter, but see it's raging red storm through one of their enormous telescopes.
Club Vice President, Greg Halac, suggests that people who want to learn more about the night sky begin by coming to a public star gazing night. See the club calendar here. “Don't go out and buy a telescope first,” he cautions. First, talk with NCAS members, try their scopes to see what you like and don't like before dropping hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The club even has loaner equipment for new members to check out. Halac encourages newbies to ask questions. “If you're interested, there is a core group of volunteers who will go out of their way to help you.”
Within this group of science enthusiasts, there are sub-specialists who concentrate on niche hobbies. Some folks are in it for the research aspects (hello near-Earth asteroids), some just love helping the public see Saturn. Robert Arn is passionate about astrophotography. At least once a week, often more, Arn drives to a dark sky location in order to shoot his elegant nightscape photos. “I really like to create images that are uncommon – that really highlight the connection between the Earth and the night sky,” he says. “They aren't separate things.”
He explains that creating photos with both the night sky and landscape images are his way of reminding people that there is a lot left for humans to explore. “When I'm out there at night, I often settle in, look up and get lost in the sky, thinking about all the places we have yet to explore. There's a lot more possibility out there,” muses the CSU grad-student. (He's pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics.)
Arn is another generous NCAS member who readily shares his techniques. His website details his shooting and processing methods. He also responds to website queries from new learners and regularly presents at regional astronomy club meetings.
Both Halac and Arn admit that there is a learning curve to get really good at finding and/or photographing night sky images. But the fun is worth the missed sleep and the cold nights. They suggest budding astronomers start by identifying the major constellations using a star chart like this one. “They're kind of your road map through the sky,” Halac explains. Then, using a simple scope or binoculars, try for a deep sky object like the Orion nebula in winter months or the Andromeda galaxy in summer. Also plan to be looking up on the evening of April 7 and 8 for the total lunar eclipse. NCAS will be hosting a viewing that night as well and would love to see you there.
Public Star Viewing Pro Tips
• Dress for 20 to 30 degrees colder than the expected low.
• Bring a beach chair and blankets if you're going to be there a while.
• Try a bunch of different sized telescopes and various mounting systems before buying anything.
• A flashlight isn't necessary because your eyes will adjust to the night. If you must have one for safety, shine it only at the ground and never in people's eyes.
• If the skies are looking cloudy, check the NCAS website before heading to one of their viewings. They'll post weather-related cancellations.
• When heading out alone, aim for the darkest skies you can get to. Pawnee National Grasslands is probably the closest dark-sky location for Northern Coloradans.
Corey Radman is a writer and amateur astronomer who, in a former career, was the Star Lady for Discovery Science Center.
I just love asking people if they want to share my SCOBY. Those “in the know” always have something to talk about and those that are confused always ask me questions.
For me, the fascination with fermentation started at a very young age. I’ve always been a foodie. I just love trying new restaurants, fun recipes and sharing food knowledge with anyone that will listen to me. Growing up in the home of South Indian immigrants, there was always a vessel of idli-dosa batter on the counter; sometimes overflowing and filling the air with the sour tinge of fermented rice and dal. My mom and I have even bonded over batches of green mango pickle and argued over the mysterious layer of fuzzy white stuff on the surface…yea, time to start over on that one! Mom has been making her own homemade yogurt for decades and I’m fairly certain that the culture she uses dates back to 1967.
Without any explanation about the science behind what I was eating, I grew up just enjoying the flavors and being proud of my heritage. I moved to Fort Collins in 2003 and shortly thereafter, started teaching cooking classes at The Cupboard. Thus began my fascination with the “why’s and how’s” of food and experimenting at a fundamentally scientific level. Well, you can’t get more fundamental than microbial communities! Fast-forward a decade and now I’m growing my own SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria + Yeast) and poppin’ jars of kimchi in my very own kitchen.
The great news is that I have found locals to share my obsession with me. Many in Northern Colorado are fermenting their way to better health and unique flavors, and the culture is only growing (pun intended). You can find people giving away or selling cultures on Craigslist, some even willing to trade for a batch of their own homebrew or homemade lotions. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some extremely interesting people who buy me coffee during SCOBY deliveries and even bring me one-of-a-kind thank you gifts such as pottery and homespun fabrics. I’d say it’s a pretty good trade since I just handed them a jar of what looks like a raw chicken cutlet floating in some cloudy vinegar! I guess this is what you do when you live in Fort Collins and aren’t really excited about beer… I prefer sour to bitter, food to alcohol and microorganisms above head. It’s flavorful, beneficial to my body, fun to make and super cheap.
Fermentation is a classic from of food preservation that goes beyond beer and cider. Enthusiasts in Northern Colorado are exchanging cultures at coffee shops and street corners in droves and in broad daylight. United by a common interest in the science and art of food, fermentos in the area love sharing ideas and “starters” for others to start their own batch of cultured foods.
As a country, we have been conditioned that bacteria is bad for us. Think about how many times a day do you wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap or use hand sanitizer? Essentially, what you are doing is attacking bacteria with all kinds of chemicals. The “good bacteria” perform all sorts of essential functions for humanity and we could not survive without it. But, what exactly are good bacteria? Think probiotics. We need probiotics in our gut to help us digest food, absorb nutrients and have a healthy immune system. Simply put, it’s gut flora. Not the most romantic sounding thing you would want to ingest, but if you think in terms of your favorite yogurt mixed with fresh berries or nice sauerkraut on a gourmet sandwich, then it doesn’t sound so bad. It’s what happens when food goes bad, but is still good for you. Every spoonful of fermented food has billions of bacteria. It’s not about eating large quantities of them at one time but to eat a little bit, fairly regularly.
To quote Sandor Katz, the current popular expert on fermentation and self-described fermentation revivalist, "We reject certain food because it is rotten. Certain food we can see is fresh. But there is this creative space between fresh food and rotten food where most of human culture's most prized delicacies and culinary achievements exist."
One of my favorite fermented milk products is crème fraiche. Formed from naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria, this incredibly over-priced fermented variant of sour cream is difficult to find in supermarkets. It’s extremely easy to make at home and at a fraction of the price. I heard this recipe on The Splendid Table podcast. The best heavy cream I have found is from one of our local dairies.
Homemade Crème Fraiche
• 1 to 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
• 2 cups heavy cream (pasteurized, not ultra pasteurized or sterilized, and with no additives)
• Combine the buttermilk and cream in a saucepan and heat only to tepid (not more than 85 degrees F on an instant reading thermometer.)
• Pour into a clean glass jar. Partially cover and let stand at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees F) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened.
• Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using. The cream will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
I found a recipe for kombucha, the “mother” of all fermented drinks, on the most thorough website I could find on the topic.
How to make one gallon of kombucha
◦ 1 cup sugar
◦ 4 to 6 bags tea – for loose leaf, 1 bag of tea = 1 tsp
◦ 1 cup starter liquid
◦ purified/bottled water
◦ tea kettle
◦ brewing vessel
◦ cloth cover
◦ rubber band
1. Boil 4 cups of water.
2. Add hot water & tea bags to pot or brewing vessel.
3. Steep 5-7 minutes, then remove tea bags.
4. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
5. Fill vessel most of the way with purified water, leaving just 1-2 inches from the top for breathing room with purified cold water.
6. Add SCOBY and starter liquid.
7. Cover with cloth cover and secure with the rubber band.
8. Say a prayer, send good vibes, commune with your culture (optional but recommended)
9. Set in a warm location out of direct sunlight (unless vessel is opaque). Do not disturb for 7 days.
• After 7 days, or when you are ready to taste your kombucha tea, gently insert a straw beneath the SCOBY and take a sip. If too tart, then reduce your brewing cycle next time. If too sweet, allow it to brew for a few more days. Continue to taste every day or so until you reach your optimum flavor preference. Your own kombuchat tea recipe may vary.
• Decant & flavor (optional).
Drink as desired! Start off with 4to 8 oz. on an empty stomach in the morning, then with meals to help with digestion or as your body tells you it would like some more! Drink plenty of water as it is a natural detoxifier and you want to flush the newly released toxins out.
Malini Bartels is a freelance writer, chef, mother, radio host and actress living the good life in Fort Collins.
Growing the Good Stuff
By Malini Bartels
April 1, 2014
Dusk has fallen over Colorado. The fading sky traded orange and pink for indigo. Orion now pronounces victory over the Earth, protecting the planet with his shield and sword. Just to his left, over the eastern horizon, an incredibly bright object catches your eye. What is that?
If you are like most people, that's about as far as your star gazing goes. Big Dipper, sure. Orion? No problem. But, identifying the transient bright object loses out to dinnertime and later, bedtime. This isn't so for everyone. For a core group of devoted amateur astronomers, love for the night sky demands more than a flight of fancy.
Starry Starry Night
By Corey Radman
February 5, 2014