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Park Holds Annual Astronomy Festival

Bryce Canyon National Park

National Park News

During the third week of June, the park celebrated the International Year of Astronomy – the 400th anniversary of the creation of the telescope – with its ninth annual astronomy festival. More than 3,000 people attended one or more of a series of related events.

Keynote speaker John Stoke kicked-off the event with a presentation entitled "Hubble and Beyond, Far Beyond." A former member of NASA's Hubble mission, Stoke discussed the very best of Hubble and offered a peek into the next generation of telescopes, which will reveal intimate secrets of the universe invisible to Hubble with a sharpness ten times higher. 

Following the indoor presentation, free stargazing with telescopes was provided, courtesy of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and the “Dark Rangers” of Bryce Canyon.

The keynote event was held in the Triple C arena in partnership with the town of Panguitch, Utah. The remaining three days’ events were held in the park.  To promote the park’s stellar night skies, superintendent Eddie Lopez waived the park’s $25 entrance fee for all Utah state residents during the festival. The park shuttle ran from 8 p.m. to midnight, providing free rides to all venues.

The 2009 Astronomy Festival featured daily model rocket building and launching workshops designed for families and kids. Other workshops included night sky planisphere demonstrations, viewing the sun with solar telescopes, and guided walks along a scale model of our solar system.  Each night here were three concurrent evening presentations by the “Dark Rangers” and other guest speakers on astronomical topics related to stars and planets, nocturnal animals, Native Americans and astrophotography.  Each evening concluded with constellation talks and star viewing under Bryce Canyon's famous dark skies. Thanks to the Salt Lake Astronomical Society, over 35 telescopes were set up and staffed for public viewing of the universe after the nightly presentations.

 In spite of the cloudy and rainy weather, the staff did a superb job of interpreting astronomy and the night skies. Stargazing attracted over 300 guests each night.  In total, over 3,300 visitors participated in the four-day event.  Park ranger Kevin Poe, the festival coordinator, teamed up with incident commander Larry Thrower to plan and execute the largest annual event in the park.  Over 60 volunteers donated long hours during the festival.  In appreciation for their dedicated service, each volunteer received free camping, a special night sky staff T-shirt with glow-in-the-dark stars and a post mid-night “Star-B-Que” steak dinner.

There was a gleam in the eyes of children as they fired up their rockets and astonishment in the visitors when they saw their first nebula or star cluster.  The festival was both a fun and educational event for the entire family.  Next year’s event is tentatively planned for July 7-10, 2010.

Clear and dark night skies are becoming endangered around the world.  With light and air pollution, fewer and fewer people can see the stars and constellations that our ancestors did.  National parks such as Bryce Canyon are among the few sanctuaries where one can experience night skies in a pristine state.

The event would not be possible without the generous support of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society, Bryce Canyon Natural History Association, Garfield County Travel Council, Ruby’s Best Western and rangers from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

For more information on the 9th Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, click on the link below.


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