One of the best star shows in the National Park System is just a few weeks off. This year's Astronomy Festival at Bryce Canyon National Park, the ninth annual, will not only feature gazing at night skies but also model rocketry and a variety of talks on night skies and nocturnal animals.
"Astronomy is fast becoming a big part of Bryce Canyon’s international appeal," says Superintendent Eddie Lopez. "People come from all over the world to see our stars and yet many Utahns have yet to experience the beauty of our night sky. So, that’s why I'm extending an invitation to all of my fellow Utahns. For the duration of our Astronomy Festival, I've authorized that Bryce Canyon’s $25 entrance fee will be waived for all non-commercial vehicles operated by a driver with a valid Utah Driver’s license."
This year’s festival will be held Wednesday, June 17, through Saturday, June 20. John Stoke, 2009 keynote speaker, kicks-off the event with his presentation, "Hubble and Beyond, Far Beyond."
Four hundred years ago, Galileo's telescope revealed the nature of the heavens for the first time. For the last two decades, photography from the Hubble Space Telescope has continued the revolution, showing us a universe far richer and stranger than one might imagine. John Stoke, a former member of NASA's Hubble mission, will provide his personal insights into Hubble and a peek into the next generation of telescopes.
Mr. Stoke's new assignment is with the National Science Foundation's National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a partner in the development of "ALMA," an international telescope project that will reveal intimate secrets of the universe invisible to Hubble, with a sharpness ten times higher.
"At first I wasn't sure that we'd be able to top last year's astronomy festival," says Head Dark Ranger Kevin Poe – "Dark Ranger" being the unofficial title that all Bryce Canyon’s astronomy rangers share. "Astronaut Story Musgrave captivated our 2008 audience with his story about how he, a mere farm boy, became a famous astronaut and how it was his farm boy know-how that fixed the Hubble Space Telescope when nobody else could.
"And yet with this year being the International Year of Astronomy – the 400th anniversary celebration of the telescope -- I can't imagine a more prestigious guest then Mr. Stoke. John has always been on the forefront of astronomy, first with Hubble, and now ALMA. Once again John will be ushering in a next era of astronomy," said Ranger Poe.
Mr. Stoke's program will be held Wednesday, June 17, from 8:30 p.m.-9:45 p.m. in the Triple-C Arena, at 50 East 900 North in Panguitch, Utah. Tickets are $2 per person, or $5 per family, and will be sold at the door. Following the indoor presentation, free stargazing with telescopes will be provided outside the arena, courtesy of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and the "Dark Rangers" of Bryce Canyon.
The 2009 Astronomy Festival will also feature model rocket building and launching workshops. Other afternoon workshops cover such topics as learning the night sky using planispheres, learning about the sun and safely viewing it with solar telescopes, and guided walks along a scale model of our solar system.
In the evenings, the "Dark Rangers" and other guest speakers will offer presentations on topics related to astronomy and nocturnal animals before venturing out into the night to stargaze under Bryce Canyon's famous dark skies. Thanks to the Salt Lake Astronomical Society, more than 50 telescopes, most of them huge, will be available for public viewing of the universe after the nightly presentations.
Throughout the festival, the Bryce Canyon Shuttle will provide free transportation to and from program venues within the park. Additionally, free shuttles will travel between Bryce Canyon City and the Triple-C Arena in Panguitch for those attending John Stoke's program on opening night. Reservations are required for these special Panguitch shuttles. Contact the Shuttle Boarding Area at Ruby's Inn for reservations and information (435-834-5290).
"I've been to zillions of these star parties, all around the world, and nobody does it like Bryce Canyon!" says Patrick Wiggins, NASA's solar system ambassador. "Not only is it one of the darkest places left on the planet, they make it fun for all ages. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or an astronomy geek to have a blast!"
Non-Utah residents must pay the park entrance fee, $25 per car, good for 7 days, or purchase an $80 America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass, which, for 12-months from the time of purchase, gets you into all 391 National Park Service areas and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service lands. Lifetime passes for seniors and persons with disabilities are also available and offer the same privilege.
Don't worry about missing out on a star-gazing opportunity if you can't make the festival. The park's rangers will be offering more than 100 astronomy programs this year, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night, May through October.