GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Travelers to the Grand Canyon are invited to experience the dark skies of the North and South rims during a weeklong party later this month.
The 29th annual “Grand Canyon Star Party Week” will be held June 22-29 on both rims of Grand Canyon National Park. Amateur astronomers from across the country will volunteer their telescopes and expertise for park visitors.
Numerous telescopes will offer views of the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Mars, double stars, star clusters, nebulae and distant galaxies, as well as the Moon, earlier in the week. By day, solar telescopes will be pointed at the sun. Weather permitting, expect spectacular views of the universe, the National Park Service said in a news release.
National parks such as Grand Canyon are protective havens for some of the last remaining dark skies in the country. Three years ago, Grand Canyon National Park announced that it received Provisional International Dark Sky Park status through the International Dark-Sky Association. Provisional status gave the park three years to retrofit two-thirds of the lights in the park to be night-sky friendly.
This year, the National Park Service celebrates Grand Canyon National Park’s full designation as an International Dark Sky Park, having completed the retrofit requirements in May. This year also marks the park’s 100th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Grand Canyon was a training ground for the Apollo astronauts where they learned about geological processes before making their journey to the moon.
A kickoff ceremony will be held June 22 at 10 a.m. at Mather Point Amphitheater. This ceremony will feature remarks from Grand Canyon National Park leadership, Grand Canyon Conservancy leadership and International Dark-Sky Association leadership.
During the day on the South Rim, visitors can stop by the Grand Canyon Visitor Center for a variety of activities. Cultural demonstrators will be present all week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jr. Ranger Day will take place June 22, and a film festival will be held June 23-28. Finally, to close out the week, the park will host a Summerfest festival on June 29.
During the evening on the South Rim, events include a nightly slide show at 8 p.m. in the Grand Canyon Visitor Center Theater followed by free telescope viewing and constellation tours behind the building. To guarantee a seat at the slide show, arrive early; doors open at 7:40 p.m. and the theater has limited capacity.
Green-laser Constellation Tours will be offered at 9, 9:30 and 10 p.m. Night sky photography workshops will be offered at 10 p.m. on June 23-26 and June 28 beginning at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center Theater. Parking is available in Lots 1 through 4 (Lot 4 is accessible). The free Village Route shuttle bus also runs until 11 p.m.
Telescope viewing is best after 9 p.m. and continues well into the night; 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 adapt to the dark, or use a red headlamp.
On the North Rim, telescopes will be set up on the veranda 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 pm nightly in the lodge auditorium. By day, look for the solar telescopes on the veranda and elsewhere. Check the visitor center and park bulletin boards for program topics and additional details.
Nighttime temperatures on both rims can be quite cool, 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. Visit the park website for shuttle bus information.
This event 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 Conservancy and in partnership with the International Dark-Sky Association.
For more information on Grand Canyon National Park’s Centennial anniversary and a full list of Summerfest activities, visit the National Park Service website.