The planet Saturn may be the first and most spectacular sight through a telescope on a star party night.
“The first thing they will say is “Ooh, wow,” says then-Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association president Thom Peck as a busload of University of Arizona astronomy students walked to a line of telescopes at the group’s Tucson Mountains TIMPA site.
Star parties are happenings for people to fly with imagination and at the same time see and believe. It’s possible to see billions of years into the past as the universe expands.
TAAA is the prime mover of local star parties, including events at the University of Arizona, Pima Community College and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Tucson’s desert skies are marvelous year-round for astronomical observations, with the lights of the city not taking as much of a toll as they do near other metropolitan locations.
How many celestial objects are up there?
“How many ants can you look at at any point in time?” rhetorically asks TAAA member Dr. Mary Turner, a noted optical designer and frequent host at local parties.
Star Parties are meant to wow, educate and inspire.
“So many things to see – the moon, Messier objects, supernovas, open clusters, planetary nebulae, double stars,” says Turner at a TAAA-hosted gathering at its , Tucson International Modelplex Park, or TIMPA, site, “What I’ve got tonight is a double-double, a double star each of which is double . . .”
For its own star parties, TAAA admits club members and their guests only, but “there are no set rules,” says club publicist Terri Lappin. “People can come and join us here at star parties and lectures, but at some point we expect you to join.”
Telescope managers will get as technical as you want, but are patient and more than willing to simplify things as much as need be.
“You only need to be able to ID the sky and pick put a few things and you can go home and impress your friends, neighbors and everyone down the street,” Turner says.
Sometimes you wonder what the ancients were doing when they saw shapes.
Might Moses have tried to figure out if Orion was part of a hunter’s belt or a half-arrow?
Byron Skinner has been a roving telescoper and star party-goer for more than 50 years. He is an advanced member of the International Dark Skies Association.
How much has he gotten around in his canvas of space?
“I still don’t know anything,” he says one night at an event at Tucson Audobon Society’s Mason Center, 3835 W. Hardy Road. “I still don’t know anything.”
UPCOMING STAR PARTIES
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
This week, the museum presents Family Astronomy Night as part of its Summer Saturday Evenings program. Various activities and telescope viewings of stars, planets and asteroids begin a 6 p.m., with Native American storyteller Gerard Tsonakwa sharing stories and legends of the night sky at Warden Oasis Theater at 7 p.m. The museum, at 2021 N. Kinney Road, stays open till 10 p.m. Saturdays through Aug. 30, with reduced admission after 5 p.m.: $6 adults and $2.25 ages 6-12. Restaurants are open till 9 p.m. For more information, call 883-2702 or go to www.desertmuseum.org.
Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association
The group hosts two star parties per month: one on the dark-of-the-moon weekend at Las Cienegas near Sonoita and the other before or after the new moon weekend at TIMPA in the Tucson Mountain foothills.
Volunteers also are available for school and youth group star parties; student and family gatherings; and for conventions and private parties.
Up next is TAAA’s monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 1 at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, Room N210. Member Terri Lappin will present “Night Sky Network Toolkit: Supernova!” For more information, call 792-6414 or go online to www.tucsonastronomy.org.
Kitt Peak National Observatory
A Nightly Observing Program is open to the public by reservation. The observatory is 56 miles southwest of Tucson via state Route 86 on the Tohono O’odham Nation. For reservations, call 520-318-8726. Or find more information at www.noao.edu/outreach/nop.
More star parties
Both Tucson Audobon Society and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge near Arivaca host periodic public star parties or astronomy sessions. For more information, contact:
• Tucson Audobon Society, 300 E. University Blvd., Suite 120, at 622-5622 or www.tucsonaudubon.org
• Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge at 520-823-4251 Ext. 116 or www.fws.gov/southwest/ refuges/arizona/buenosaires/index.html
STAR PARTY GUIDE
• You don’t have to have a telescope; amateur astronomists are happy to share.
• Arrive before dusk and watch the sun set.
• Dress for the weather; always beware of snakes in southern Arizona.
• Do not use bright flashlights; your best option is to wrap red cellophane around a regular flashlight.
• Don’t touch the telescope except as instructed by whoever is in charge of it.
• Many objects in the sky can be seen with good binoculars.
• Let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness before searching for fainter objects.
• Use averted vision, looking to left or right of objects, instead of directly at them.
• When leaving an event in your vehicle, go slowly and do not turn on the headlights near the viewing area.