By Will Kalif
When I travel somewhere, I usually say something like, “I stayed there one week.” Or, “I stayed there five days.” But in the case of my most recent trip, I am going to say that I stayed there five nights! That’s because it was the nights that were important. I went to the annual Grand Canyon Star Party at the south rim! Yay! And I had a wonderful time.
Every year during a new moon, the Grand Canyon National Park hosts a star-gazing party. And this one was special because this year marks the 100th Anniversary of the park.
Rangers estimate that at event there were between 60 and 70 telescopes, and that approximately 10,000 visitors showed up during the entirety of the week. All in all it was a wonderful event both for amateur astronomers and for the public in general.
I spent a lot of time speaking to many of the amateur astronomers and they represented many clubs – including clubs here in Arizona and in California. I also met a couple who traveled all the way from New York specifically for this event.
And there is no wonder that the event has a strong draw. It is because the night sky over the Grand Canyon is extremely dark and deep. It is among the best night viewing in America; the Milky Way really pops and it was brightly making its presence known for most of the week. There were a couple of partly-cloudy nights, though. But overall the week was a big success. Every night there some kind of a free presentation which usually was about astrophotography, and every half hour they had free constellation tours.
Once darkness hit the canyon, the public was free to roam around the parking lot in back of the visitor center where all the telescopes were. And the lines got long, especially at the bigger telescopes. We had excellent views of Mercury shortly after sunset and Jupiter and the usual array of summer Messier objects as the sky got darker.
I also attended two of the astrophotography workshops, and even as a beginner I learned how to take some terrific Milky Way pictures. Here is one of them:
If you live here in Arizona and have never been to it, I highly recommend you schedule it in for next year. It is a fantastic event and a great opportunity to talk with other amateur astronomers and even look through their telescopes.
At this event there even was a 41-inch truss tube dobsonian. How often do you get the chance to look through something like that?!
If you want to see more pictures of the event, the milky way and the telescopes visit my website here.