June 4 – 11: The annual Star Party at the Grand Canyon offers visitors some of the greatest celestial views in the nation.
As industrialization and population growth explode, National parks like the Grand Canyon have evolved into protective harbors for some of the last remaining dark skies in the country. Enjoy the increasingly rare beauty of a clear night sky in early June at the Grand Canyon as the entire park becomes an astronomical observatory.
That’s right, for eight nights (June 4-11 this year), the Grand Canyon hosts its Star Party, an annual event featuring volunteer astronomers who share their expertise and set up telescopes for public viewing. The canyon’s sky is truly a wonder to witness in June, as it’s usually the clearest and driest month of the year. To ensure the annual Star Party delivers the best backdrop for celestial bodies, organizers shift the date each year, avoiding the full moon for best visibility and the darkest night sky.
If you’re lucky you may see an assortment of planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae and even distant galaxies. 2016 will be extra special as Saturn and Mars will both be close to opposition making them viewable for most of the night. Jupiter will also be visible early each evening this year and the moon will wax from new to first quarter over the course of the party. Early in the week hosts the darkest skies, but as the moon waxes it does become a popular sight itself. Highlights of the event include nightly slide shows and constellation tours at both the North and South Rim (see website for more details), the earliest of which begins at 8 p.m. Although many telescopes come down after 11 p.m., on nights with clear, calm skies some astronomers continue sharing their telescopes later into the night.
Even in the summertime, nights at the canyon get chilly, so all Star Party attendees are encouraged to bring warm layers. And of course, since it’s nighttime, it’ll be dark – so you’ll need a light source. But be aware, to preserve the darkest sky views, all white light sources (most flashlights and smartphone screens) are prohibited. Interestingly, only red-light flashlights are advised – visit the Grand Canyon online to see why red is best, and for other tips on taking a trip to the party!
Annual Grand Canyon Star Party Dates:
Can’t go this year?
Save a future date now!
- June 17 – 24, 2017
- June 22 – 29, 2019
- June 09 – 16, 2018
- June 13 – 20, 2020
The Star Party itself is free, but there is a park entrance fee of $30 per vehicle, good for seven days of coming and going to either rim. If you’ve never been to the Park, this event is an amazing way to see the Grand Canyon by day and the illuminated universe by night for a very reasonable rate. No RSVP is required, just show up.
Learn more at www.nps.gov/grca
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