If you have any interest in the night sky and other wonders of the universe, the number "13" will be a lucky one this year--if you can get to Bryce Canyon National Park between June 5 and 8. Those are the dates for the 13th annual Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, and the list of activities is an impressive one.
A variety of options are on tab from morning until late at night, and attendees don't have to wait until dark to find some astronomical events.
Daytime activities include looking for sunspots with solar telescopes, exploring a 1:10 billion scale model of the solar system with Sir Isaac Newton (portrayed by Derek Demeter), instruction and practice in using a planisphere and the long-standing family favorite, model rocket building and launching workshops. (Kits are available for purchase, and range in price from $10 to $30.)
The Main Event Occurs Each Night
The main attraction will be found overhead once darkness falls, and free stargazing and constellation tours will be offered every night during the Festival. A wide variety of large telescopes will be available for use, thanks to the Salt Lake Astronomical Society, and Society members and Bryce Canyonâs astronomy experts known as the âDark Rangersâ will be on hand to offer expert advice.
While participants are waiting for skies to darken, there's a full schedule of talks on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings at several locations in the park. Topics include "Star Stories" by Planetarium Educator Amy Sayle, "Forgotten Astronomers" by Seminole State College Planetarium Director Derek Demeter, and "Mapping the Andromeda Galaxy thru Crowd Sourcing" by University of Utah Astronomer Dr. Anil Seth.
Free Tickets Needed for Evening Talks
These programs will be held in the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center Theater, Bryce Canyon Lodge Auditorium, and North Campground Amphitheater. You'll find a complete schedule of events at this link. Because of limited seating, FREE tickets are required for the Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday evening programs. Tickets must be obtained in person and are available at the Visitor Center beginning at 10 p.m. on the night before each program. The Visitor Center will be open from 8 a.m. to midnight each day during the Festival.
A highlight of the Festival will be a Friday evening talk by one of the legends of America's space program. Dr. Story Musgrave joined NASA back in the Apollo days, remained with the agency for 30 years, and is the only astronaut to fly on all five space shuttles. Fellow astronauts knew him as their flight instructor, and astronomers around the world know him as a key member of the team that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope.
A NASA Legend Will be the Keynote Speaker
Dr. Musgrave will talk about his epic mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 7. The astronaut's life story is an inspirational one; he was a farm boy who joined the Marines before finishing high school and then returned from Korea to eventually earn seven graduate degrees (in medicine, math, computers, chemistry, physiology, literature and psychology).
This program will be presented at Ebenezerâs Barn and Grill in Bryce Canyon City, located on Highway 63 one mile outside the entrance to the park, across from Ruby's Inn. Tickets will be available at the door for $3 per person or $10 per family. Advance tickets sales for the talk will be offered Monday â Friday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Ebenezerâs Barn & Grill Desk, located in the lobby of Rubyâs Best Western Inn.
Night Sky Programs Offered at the Park Through October
Even if you miss the special activities for next week's Astronomy Festival, there are still plenty of opportunities in coming months to enjoy programs featuring the park's night skies. The park will offer over 100 astronomy programs this year â every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night, May through October. You'll find more details about that schedule at this link, and a short video highlights the park's night sky programs.
According to information from the park, "Bryce Canyon is the ultimate place to learn about and enjoy the splendor of the night sky. Far from the light pollution of civilization, and protected by a special force of park rangers and volunteer astronomers known as 'The Dark Rangers,' Bryce Canyon is the last grand sanctuary of natural darkness."
"The night sky at Bryce is so dark we can see 7500 stars on a moonless night! Here the Milky Way extends from horizon to horizon like a vast silver rainbow! Here Venus, and even Jupiter, are bright enough to cause you to cast a shadow! No visit to Bryce Canyon is complete without joining the Dark Rangers for one of their educational and entertaining celebrations of natural darkness."
âWith its renowned dark skies, astronomy has long been a significant part of Bryce Canyonâs international appeal,â says Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh. The upcoming Astronomy Festival or any of the other park programs throughout the summer offer great opportunities to enjoy this special resource.