Amateur astronomers from across the country will gather at the South and North rims of Grand Canyon National Park from June 4 through June 11 for the 26th annual Grand Canyon Star Party. The star party this year is honoring a man named Joe Orr, who died in 2013. Orr was a long-time participant in the star party events, as well as a passionate fighter against light pollution. The event is also part of a nationwide celebration in 2016 to commemorate the centennial of the National Park Service. Other national parks are commemorating this anniversary with their own special activities for the public.
Thanks to the efforts of Orr and other star lovers over the years, the Grand Canyon remains an excellent location for stargazing. Unlike most developed areas in the United States, the Grand Canyon area has only minimum artificial lighting at night, keeping the skies dark and filled with an abundance of stars that most people never get a chance to see.
Each year for the star party, amateur astronomers set up their numerous telescopes for the public to use and offer their guidance regarding the stars, constellations, planets, moon, nebulae, galaxies, and other fascinating space objects. The planets that are visible this year are Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Telescopes will also be set up during the daytime, allowing people to—with the aid of special filters fitted on the scopes—take in close-up views of the sun, including sunspots.
In addition to looking through telescopes, visitors can enjoy free educational slide programs about the night sky. It is suggested that visitors bring a flashlight to help them get around the telescope viewing area at night. To prevent the flashlight from being too bright (and adversely affecting one’s night vision), it is a good idea to cover the flashlight head with red cellophane, red marker, or red nail polish. It is also a good idea to bring warm clothing, because nighttime temperatures can be quite cool at both the South and North rim.
South Rim and North Rim events
Astronomy events at the South Rim and North Rim have slightly different schedules. At the South Rim, the free telescope viewing begins every night behind the visitor center after the 8:00 pm slide show in the center. The viewing will continue well into the night. Constellation tours, in which the constellations are pointed out with the use of green lasers, are offered at 9:00, 9:30, and 10:00 pm. Park officials suggest that South Rim visitors park in lots 1 through 4, or they can use the free Village Route shuttle bus, which operates until 11:00 pm.
At the North Rim, free telescope viewing begins on the terrace of the Grand Canyon Lodge each night after the 8:30 slide show in the lodge auditorium. Green-laser constellation tours will also be presented at this location.
The Grand Canyon Star Party is sponsored by the National Park Service, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association, and the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix. Financial support is provided by the Grand Canyon Association and the International Dark-Sky Association.
For more information about the Grand Canyon Star Party, people can check park bulletin boards, the visitor center, and the event website, at https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/grand-canyon-star-party.htm, or they can phone Marker Marshall at 928-638-7830.