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Grand Canyon Star Party returns to the rim June 17-24

The Milky Way stretches across the sky just after sunset. Photo/NPS

The Milky Way stretches across the sky just after sunset. Photo/NPS

The 27th annual Grand Canyon Star Party will take place June 17-24 on the South and North Rims of Grand Canyon National Park.

Park visitors can explore the wonders of the night sky on Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim with the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association and on the North Rim with the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix.

National parks such as Grand Canyon are protective harbors for some of the last remaining dark skies in this country. Because of its dark skies and clean air, Grand Canyon offers one of the best night sky observing sites in the United States.

Last year, Grand Canyon National Park announced its Provisional International Dark Sky Park status through the International Dark-Sky Association. This provisional status gives the park three years to retrofit two-thirds of the lights in the park to be night-sky friendly. In 2016, 43 percent of the lights in the park were night sky friendly. This year, we celebrate our continuing efforts to preserve this precious dark sky sanctuary while counting down to both Grand Canyon National Park’s 100th birthday and full International Dark Sky Park status in 2019.

Amateur astronomers from across the country volunteer their expertise and offer free nightly astronomy programs and telescope viewing. Through the telescopes, participants may be able to see an assortment of planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae and distant galaxies by night, or the Sun or Venus by day. Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises after 1 a.m. This year, Jupiter and Saturn will be evening highlights, but Venus is often visible in the early to mid-morning hours.

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.

At 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 behind the building. Doors for the slide show open at 7:40 pm. Green-laser Constellation Tours will be offered at 9, 9:30 and 10 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 dark-adapt, or use a red flashlight, easily made by covering any flashlight with red cellophane, nail polish, or permanent marker. Parking is available in Lots 1 through 4 (Lot 4 is handicap accessible), or arrive by the free shuttle bus, which runs until 11 p.m.

On the North Rim, telescopes will be set up 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 pm nightly in the lodge auditorium. By day, look for solar telescopes on the terrace and elsewhere. Visitors can check the Visitor Center and park bulletin boards for program topics and additional details.

Visitors should 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 http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/shuttle-buses.htm.

More information about the Star Party is available at https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/grand-canyon-star-party.htm or from Rader Lane at (928) 638-7641.

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