CEDAR CITY — After hosting weekly gatherings for the last five weeks, a local astronomy group hopes to inspire others in the community to join them in looking to the stars.
The Southern Utah Space Foundation has been hosting star parties as an attempt to raise awareness of astronomy in the community. According to the Foundation’s website, they began hosting the event each Saturday from July 26 through Aug. 30 at Cedar City’s Discovery Park with the mission of spreading the knowledge of the cosmos and giving everyone in the community a chance to participate in astronomy.
The star parties have been an overall success for both adults and children of the Cedar City community, Leesa Ricci, president of the Southern Utah Space Foundation, said. Which is good news because this is the first time these events have been offered.
“We’re getting quite a few people from the community and a lot of kids,” Ricci said. “Because we’ve been holding the (star parties) in Discovery Park, I think it’s worked out really well for parents and children.”
While the star parties are being offered to the community free of charge, the foundation is currently accepting donations from those willing to give to help ensure knowledge of astronomy can continue to spread. One of the ways the foundation hopes to do this, Ricci said, is by purchasing a large telescope that could be used as a portable observatory.
This observatory could then be used by schools in the surrounding areas, as well as by the community, for astronomy events both in Cedar City and other locations where the skies may be more visible.
Because of the dark skies located in locations around Southern Utah, Ricci said people would be surprised by the amount of beauty able to be seen in the night-sky away from the effects of light pollution and other human infrastructure. Locations that meet these criteria are where Ricci said use of the portable observatory and personal telescopes can really shine.
The foundation is hoping to have the portable observatory operational by May 2015. This would help ensure the telescope would be operational by early-summertime, Riccie said, a time where the community and tourists would be able to venture out and take advantage of a true star-gazing experience.
“We really want to reach out to the community and students and children … because astronomy is one of those things that’s not really a part of curriculum in schools,” she said. “But it is something that is so easy with our location and so easy to do if you have a good telescope.”
Ricci said a guest speaker, physicist Randy Dunning, will be making an appearance on Saturday to celebrate the final night of the six-week series. Dunning has worked with multiple national parks and observatories throughout Utah and is very knowledgeable in this area of study.
While Saturday marks the last night of star parties, Ricci said the community can be on the lookout for other events or promotions through her organization. Currently, the foundation is preparing to begin an essay contest, where contestants can submit articles relating to astronomy in the hopes to win prizes ranging from gift cards to telescopes and other astronomy items. These forms of community engagement are what Ricci hopes will continue to drive the public’s interest in a subject she hopes will grow as years progress.
“Astronomy is really the universal science,” Ricci said. “I think that learning about astronomy and learning about space and our place in the universe is a very eye-opening feel for a lot of people.”
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