Star Party Scheduled for June 21-28 at Grand Canyon National Park

Star gazers will have an opportunity to scan the heavens from Grand Canyon National Park later in June during a week-long star party that will feature activities on both North and South rims.

The 18th annual Grand Canyon Star Party will be held from Saturday, June 21 through Saturday, June 28, 2008 on the rims. 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 Association. Amateur astronomers from across the country will volunteer their expertise. Free star programs will be offered, and numerous telescopes will be set up to view planets, star clusters, galaxies, and nebulae at night and to view the sun by day.

Grand Canyon is one of the best night sky observing sites in the United States. Weather permitting, expect spectacular views of the universe! On the South Rim, events include a slide show nightly at 8:00 p.m. next to Yavapai Observation Station, followed by telescope viewing in the Yavapai parking lot and the dirt lot below.

Since there will be very few parking spaces, plan to arrive by the park’s free shuttle bus, which runs until 11:00 p.m. For a comfortable spot at the slide shows, arrive early and bring something to sit on. For telescope viewing only, arrive any time after dark. Viewing continues well into the night.

On the North Rim, the nightly slide program will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Grand Lodge auditorium; and telescopes will be set up on the porch of the Lodge every evening. Check with the visitor center for the location of special daytime sun viewing telescopes.

Nighttime temperatures at the canyon can be quite cool, even in summer. Those attending the star parties are encouraged to bring warm layers of clothing. Visitors to the South Rim Star Party may also want to bring a flashlight as they will be walking to their viewing area.

When traveling in the park on the South Rim, it is best to find a parking space and utilize the free shuttle bus to many of the points of interest in the Grand Canyon Village area – see the Park Guide for tour bus routes and schedules. If you plan to stay over night at Grand Canyon National Park, plan your visit well in advance. Visit our official website or, to receive a free Grand Canyon Trip Planner, call 928-638-7888.


For those. who can't attend the Star Parties at GRCA,but live in the Bay area, I'd like to recommend the monthly star gazing events on top of Mount Tamalpais. They begin with a high level talk on some astronomy related issues in the amphitheater (build by the CCC, I might mention to connect this blog entry with the last one) and followed by star gazing through telescopes brought and set up by volunteers from the whole area. This seasons schedule can be found at The venue is Mount Tamalpais State Park. North of the bay.

It's great that the Grand Canyon Star Party has become a special event during the time of the Summer Solstice. National Parks are special places where dark skies and curious minds collide. Be sure to take advantage of this organized effort to promote public star gazing in the parks. There's no charge, and the world-class ensemble of volunteer amateur astronomers gathered for this special event are quite knowlegdeable about their subject and equipment.

At the North Rim, some of the telescopes set up near the Grand Canyon Lodge are home-made Dobsonians belonging to the Sidewalk Astronomers, a well-known volunteer group dedicated to taking their telescopes wherever people gather and are willing to stay out after dark. For the best experience, however, be sure to inquire where one should go to view the stars without any presence of artificial lights. Use a red filter for your flashlight to find your way without destroying the night adaptation of your eyes (and those near you).

If you have a view of the eastern horizon, look for three bright stars as dusk gives way to night. This would be about 10:15 PM. These three stars make up the "Summer Triangle." They are: Deneb in Cygnus, Vega, in Lyra, and Altair, in Aquila.

Altair shines just above the eastern horizon, while Vega, the brightest of the three stars, forms the peak of the Summer Triangle; it is about 40 degrees above the horizon. Deneb makes up the northeast corner of the triangle, and appears to be the dimmer of the three stars (it's actually the brightest, only much farther away, so it seems somewhat dimmer to our eyes).

Binoculars are excellent optical aids for hunting stars, especially when mounted on a tripod. Here are some binocular star-hunting tips: As it gets dark (after 11 PM on June 21st), try spotting the open cluser of stars known as the "Coathanger." Look for the Coathanger along a straight line imagined between Altair and Vega. It's located above Altair about one third of the way towards Vega in the dark dust lane of the Milky Way called the Great Rift.

By 11:30 PM, the Milky Way will present a spectacular view to the unaided eye, rising over the southeastern horizon (looking across the canyon to the South Rim). The Milky Way runs from the southern horizon through the middle of the Summer Triangle, between Altair and Vega, through Deneb and beyond. Under the dark skies of the Grand Canyon, the Milky Way will be brightly visible, as long as one is shielded from artifical lights, and the skies are clear of clouds.

Where the Milky Way intercepts the southern horizon, locate the celestial constellation Scorpio (The Scorpion), with its brightest star, the red giant, Antares shining about 20 degrees above the southern horizon. Locate Scorpio's curved tail and stinger. Search with binoculars (preferrably mounted) along the curved base of Scorpio's tail. There, a wonderful small cluster of stars can be observed, known informally as the "Jewell Box." At this time of night, this multi-colored star cluster should twinkle beautifully, as it is low on the horizon.

Immediately to the east of Scorpio's stinger, look for Ptolmey's cluster (M-7) and the Butterfly cluster (M-6), both can be observed in the same binocular field of view. Then progressing eastward, following the wide path of the Milky Way, stop just above the dome and spout of the "teapot" of Sagittarius, and search with binoculars for the bright Lagoon nebula (M-8) and it's companion, the Trifid nebula (M-20). Both will be in the same binocular field of view. They appear in binoculars as separate bright hazy objects surrounding a cluster of stars.

The very bright object immediatly east of the Sagittarius teapot, above the southeastern horizon, and below the Milky Way, is Jupiter, the giant gaseous planet. In binoculars, look for Jupiter's four Gallilean moons (their positions will change each hour). Jupiter will be visible in the night sky every month during the summer.

On June 21st, the gibbous moon will rise shortly after midnight. Look at the moon's craters. For observing objects in the Milky Way, the moon is a source of natural light pollution. The eastern horizon will brighten considerably, even while the moon is below the horizon. It fortunately rises about 40 minutes later each successive evening, and it will be only a thin crescent when it rises on June 29th at 3:17 AM, during the last night of the Grand Canyon Star Party.

There's much more to see when out exploring the "other half of the park" at night, but these few binocular tips should provide an effective introduction for night sky observing during the week of June 21 through 28th.

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Last night, while star gazing in the Grand Canyon- North Rim, facing the north eastern sky at approxinately between 9:30-10:30pm... we saw a very large shootign star which appeared to have a tail. The star appeared twice in the same place about 1/2 an hour later. Could this have been a comet?

More than likely they were two bright meteors occurring 1/2 hour apart that were part of the show of the spectacular August 11 and 12th Perseid meteor shower.

At 9:30 PM at night at the Grand Canyon, the waxing gibbous moon would have been high in the southern sky, causing only the brightest of the Perseid meteors to be readily visible. The best time for viewing the Perseid meteors would be after the moon set in the west, perhaps after 3:30 AM. Then, the meteor count could have exceeded 100 per hour.

Comets are seldom seen with the naked eye. Once spotted, however, they do not appear to be moving, except when plotting their position among the background stars from one day to another. Most comets are quite dim and observed using mounted binoculars as grey-green fuzzy objects with bright centers.

Comet tails become visible when the comet nears the sun and the icy head of the comet begins to vaporize and reflect sunlight. This means that comets with tails will be observed mostly after dusk or in the pre-dawn sky, unless the tail of the comet forms while the comet is further away from the sun than is Earth.

Comet P17/Holmes, which was visible last fall high in the eastern sky within the constellation Perseus, was situated between Mars and Jupiter when it suddenly exploded. Its brightness increased by over 1 million times in 42 hours. This was supposedly the result of an impact with a small asteroid or an internal explosion from the build-up of internal gases that caused much of its head to vaporize, expand, and reflect sunlight.

The coma, or visible vaporous head of this comet, became the largest object in the solar system at the time, but since the comet was almost directly opposite the sun from Earth, no tail could be seen. The the tail of comet P17/Holmes was pointing directly away from the sun, and thus, it was also pointing directly away from any observer on Earth. At the time, it appeared to be the second or third brightest star in Perseus.

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830