The convergence of the winter solstice, a full lunar eclipse, and some of the country's darkest night skies make Bryce Canyon National Park the place to be on Monday.
The unique event has Bryce Canyon officials planning a special evening of moon gazing above the hoodoos in the park.
“Whether or not you’ve been to an astronomy show at Bryce Canyon before, it’s worth braving the cold for this one, because we won’t have a total lunar eclipse on the winter solstice for another 391 years!” points out park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh. "Though total lunar eclipses can be seen about every five years in North
America, the next one to happen on the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year and when Earth is closest to our Sun, won’t be until December 21, 2401!"
While a full moon usually puts a damper on star gazing, the fact that an eclipse will be under way will provide a particularly unusual and interesting night for observing the celestial heavens.
“Full moons are so bright that usually they’re the enemy of stargazing," noted "dark ranger" Joel Allen. "However, as the moon eclipses, you’ll get the best of both worlds—the romance of a full moon, and the starry splendor of an ultra-dark sky.”
The evening events begin at 5:30 p.m. with a full moon hike among the hoodoos led by Dark Ranger Kevin Poe. Attendance is capped at 30 participants, ages 6 and up. The hike is moderately strenuous and will last about two hours.
Stop by the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center (open daily, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) or call (435-834-4747) to reserve a spot on this hike. Hiking boots are required for all participants on moonlight hikes. Because hiking trails have patches of snow and ice, traction devices are highly recommended. Visitors may purchase traction devices
at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center for $25, if they so desire.
The second event will be a pre-eclipse moon viewing through large telescopes on the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center patio. This will take place from 10:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Be sure to dress warmly as nighttime temperatures will dip well below freezing.
Beginning at 10:30 p.m. in the visitor center auditorium, Dark Rangers Allen and Poe will present a one-hour multimedia program called, “All I Want for Solstice is Our Moon to Come Back!” In addition to explaining how eclipses work, this presentation highlights the science and mythology of how the Moon came to be, life’s dependence on the Moon, and human exploration of that lunar neighbor.
The grand finale of the evening will take place from 11:30 p.m. to 12:40 a.m. Visitors will be invited back to the large telescopes outside to view the “disappearing” Moon as it is slowly eclipsed by Earth’s shadow.
“Still looking for the perfect gift for that person who has everything? Why not bring them to our Eclipse Extravaganza here at Bryce Canyon, the Last Grand Sanctuary of Natural Darkness!" said Ranger Poe. “This will not be the only astronomy presentation Bryce Canyon offers during this holiday season - but it will be the best one!”
The other three astronomy presentations will be Friday, December 24, Tuesday, December 28, and Friday, December 31. All three will be held at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center and all three will start at 7:00p.m., followed by stargazing - weather permitting. All events are free of charge, though the park entrance fee is $25.00 – good for up to a seven-day visit at Bryce Canyon National Park.
National passes like the Interagency Annual Pass, Senior Pass, and Access Pass waive the entrance fee.
Be sure to dress warmly—with lots of layers—for these events. Free hot apple cider and cocoa will be provided for attendees of these events.