Astronomers provide free telescope viewing, expertise at Grand Canyon National Park

Photo by leonardospencer/Getty Images; St. George News

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — National parks such as the Grand Canyon are protective harbors for some of the last remaining dark skies in this country. Stargazers can take advantage of this fact from June 4-11 as part of the 26th annual Grand Canyon Star Party on the South and North rims of the park. This is one of many special events going on in national parks across the country in this centennial year of the National Park Service.

This year’s event honors Joe Orr, a Grand Canyon Star Party enthusiast and protector of Grand Canyon’s skies who died in 2013. Amateur astronomers from across the country will volunteer their telescopes and expertise for the enjoyment of park visitors.

Astronomers and rangers will present free slide programs, and numerous telescopes will offer views of planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, as well as double stars, star clusters, nebulae and distant galaxies and the Moon later in the week. By day, keep an eye out for solar telescopes pointed at the sun. Weather permitting, expect spectacular views of the universe.

South Rim events

On the South Rim, events include a nightly slide show at 8 p.m. in the theater of the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, followed by free telescope viewing behind the building. Green-laser Constellation Tours will be offered at 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Parking is recommended in lots 1 through 4, or visitors can use the free Village Route shuttle bus, which runs until 11 p.m. To guarantee a seat at the slide show, arrive early; doors open at 7:40 p.m. With the best opportunities for seeing the night sky taking place after 9 p.m, telescope viewing continues well into the night, and visitors may arrive any time after dark.

A flashlight is recommended for the walk to the viewing area, but white lights are not permitted on the Telescope Lot. Give your eyes time to dark-adapt, or use a red flashlight — easily constructed by covering any flashlight with red cellophane, nail polish or permanent marker.

North Rim events

On the North Rim, astronomers will set up telescopes on the terrace of the Grand Canyon Lodge every evening. Astronomers will also use green lasers to point out constellations. An astronomy slide show will be presented at 8:30 p.m. nightly in the lodge auditorium. By day, look for solar telescopes on the terrace and elsewhere. Check the visitor center and park bulletin boards for program topics and additional details.

Expect cool nighttime temperatures on both rims, even in summer. Those attending the Star Party are encouraged to bring warm layers of clothing. When traveling in the park on the South Rim, it is best to find a parking space and use the free shuttle bus system to access points of interest in the Grand Canyon Village area. For shuttle bus information, visit the South Rim shuttle bus web page.

The Grand Canyon Star Party is sponsored by the National Park Service, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (South Rim) and the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix (North Rim), with funding from Grand Canyon Association and in partnership with the International Dark-Sky Association.

For additional Star Party information visit the event web page or contact Marker Marshall at 928-638-7830.

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