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Bryce Canyon National Park's Annual Astronomy Festival Set For June 5-8

Salt Lake Astronomical Society preparing their telescopes for an evening of stargazing at the park. NPS photo by Kevin Doxstater

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 Canyon'™s astronomy experts known as the 'œDark Rangers' 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 Ebenezer'™s 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 '“ Friday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Ebenezer'™s Barn & Grill Desk, located in the lobby of Ruby'™s 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 '” 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.  

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Bryce Canyon's Head Dark Ranger Kevin Poe with his telescope "Marvin." NPS photo.

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." 

'œWith its renowned dark skies, astronomy has long been a significant part of Bryce Canyon'™s international appeal,' 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.


RATS! I just came from Bryce Canyon and won't be able to go back for this. I think I'll spend the next half hour throwing a big tantrum . . . . .

However, while at Bryce last weekend, I had the privilege of attending one of Kevin Poe's evening programs. It was entitled Climate Intervention and was an absolutely terrific interactive, audience participation discussion of facts and myths about global warming (or whatever you want to call it). Some material from this program shows up in Bryce's Junior Ranger book.

And as for dark skies . . . . I can certainly attest to that. I spent several days and nights not far from Bryce out on Grand Staircase. Full moon, so the skies weren't really dark all night. Darned moon made it hard to sleep without covering the eyes. But at sunset, there was a triangular treat in the western sky as Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter were in conjunction just above the horizon. And on nights following the full moon when the moon rose later, the scramble of stars up there made it hard to give up and go to sleep. For those of us who now live in a city, it's easy to forget how many of those little lights are really out there.

So, if you're anywhere within a couple hundred miles of Bryce this next weekend, by all means get over there.

Here's a link to NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day with a real reason to visit Bryce.

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