Smoke and Mirrors

by Michael Wright

Colorado astronomers are benefiting from the state’s recent legalization of marijuana. Members of Denver’s Mile High Astronomy Club are reporting spectacular results from observing under the influence of cannabis. In an interview, Club President Bill Roach said “One of our members has been pushing grass for astronomical uses for many years. Once it became legally available in January, some of our members were willing to give it a try.”

Double Cluster in Perseus  Sketch by D. Jones

Double Cluster in Perseus Sketch by D. Jones

The club began experimenting with marijuana at their Mount Mellow observatory and found that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, enhances their observing skill. The effects of THC on vision are well-known, but now another practical application has been found for the drug. Club members discovered that they could observe stars one to two magnitudes dimmer after partaking of a joint. Some members like Doobie Jones report even better results, “Dude, you would not believe the colors you can see in the Orion Nebula. Psychedelic, man! And the Double Cluster, like a light show at the Fillmore West.”

This is not the first time that marijuana has been used to enhance astronomer’s skills. Jamaican astronomer, Vernon Tosh, a protege of William Henry Pickering, was known to smoke a spliff while preparing his sky atlas. Tosh’s goal was to free astronomy from colonialist oppression by replacing Babylonian constellations with new ones based on Rastafari icons. Rumored to contain many previously undiscovered asterisms, the atlas was lost in a house fire in 1971 before it could be published.

Not everyone agrees that marijuana is a boon for astronomy. When asked to comment on THC-enhanced observing, Sticklie Mudd, contributing editor to Astronomy Today magazine, said “Stargazing is not like it was when I was young. Today’s observers are not willing to put in the hard work needed. This is a dangerous trend. Pot is a gateway to other observing crutches like GoTo mounts and iPhone apps.”

Despite the controversy, THC-enhanced observing is providing benefits for local eateries. Sonny Sinsemilla of Sonny’s Pizza reported “Sales are up 500% since we began staying open all night. I’ve had to hire an extra delivery person just to handle deliveries to the observatory.”

Given New Jersey’s slow roll-out of medical marijuana, our state’s astronomers may have a long time to wait to try THC-enhanced observing. In the meantime, one can visit Mt. Mellow. Jennie Hemp of the Colorado Department of Tourism explained, “We were very excited when we learned about what the club is doing. This is a great opportunity to make Denver an astronomy destination. We are working with the club to publicize THC-enhanced observing opportunities at Mt. Mellow to astronomers around the country.” President Roach said, “There’s been huge interest observing at Mt. Mellow since we began the program. We hope we can used it to increase interest in astronomy and STEM in general.”

Anyone interested in visiting Mt. Mellow can get more information at the Mile High Astronomy Club’s website:

This entry was posted in April 2014 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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