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Upcoming Star Party Astronomy Events

Event Brochure

Download Star Party & Astronomy Events brochure ( 5.7 MB PDF) Download and share our brochure with event dates! Includes live links to Partner Group websites and park home pages.

Oracle SP Named one of 37 Darkest Parks in the World.

Read the Phoenix Magazine article, HERE.

2016 Star Parties

Come spend an evening with your family and friends at the park, and observe the wonders of the night sky through astronomers' telescopes! Bring a red light, sweater or jacket, enthusiasm to enjoy and conserve our beautiful night skies! Entrance Fee varies per park for night of family fun! Meet our partner astronomy groups who host these program below.

* Day Use Park Event. Evening events at day use parks require pre-registration. Call the park directly to pre-register.

Intro to Star Night Parties Video

Observe the Wonders of the Night Sky Through Telescopes at Dark Sky Parks!

Many Arizona State Parks host fun, educational Star Parties or Astronomy events! Our astronomy program has been in operation since 2007 and continues to grow! At a typical star night event you can hear a lecture (often with guest speakers), and view celestial objects (planets, nebulas, stars) through a variety of telescopes. Some events have information tables and afternoon solar viewings as well. These events are supported by Arizona Astronomy Clubs and individuals who invite the public to come see Arizona's amazing night skies. Watch our video which gives a good introduction to Star Night activities. Learn more about what to expect and what to bring on this page.

What Do I Bring? Water, snacks, a jacket, and enthusiasm to enjoy and conserve our beautiful night skies! Also, a red-light flashlight helps you see in the dark and protects everyone's night vision.

How Much? To participate you must pay the park's Day Use Entrance Fee or camp at the park.

What Time? Most programs start at sunset with a “Welcome & Introduction.” Some events also feature afternoon solar viewing or a lecture before it gets dark. Verify event details on this page.

Bad Weather. Programs may be cancelled in inclement weather.

Respect the Rules! No flash photos are allowed after dark. Please do not touch the astronomers' telescopes — only lean in and look with your eye!

* Day Use Park Event. Evening events at day use parks require pre-registration. Call the park directly to pre-register.

Telescopes. If you have a telescopes feel free to bring it. Each event has an organizer you can coordinate with before arriving. If you have never brought your scope to a public event it's a great experience and we can help you!

Camping. Star Night events are the perfect event to camp at. You can even make campsite reservations online 24/7.

Time-Lapse at Oracle SP at Night

Mike Weasner of the Oracle Dark Skies Committee has created a time-lapse film of the dark skies at the park. You can watch 2 hours of the night sky passing by in 11 seconds. There is no audio track to this piece.

Oracle SP Awarded Dark-Sky Park Status

In October 2014, Oracle SP was awarded International Dark-Sky Park status by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). Founded in 1988, IDA calls attention to the hazards of light pollution and works to protect and preserve the night sky for future generations.

Meet Our Partners

Since 2007, Star Night Parties and Astronomy Events at Arizona State Parks have been conducted by volunteer clubs who provide equipment and interpreters. Our programs introduce the public to star gazing and strives to educate people about the need for protecting Arizona's dark sky natural resource. Visit a club's website for membership info, upcoming events, or to learn how to support their work.

Astronomers of Verde Valley (AstroVerde.org) Alamo Lake SP/Dead Horse Ranch SP/Red Rock SP/Kartchner Caverns SP/Tonto Natural Bridge SP
Founded in 1994, the club hosts star parties and educational events at locations across Arizona. The group has supported Arizona State Parks since the first “Night Under the Stars” event at Alamo Lake SP in 2007, and has also hosted events at other parks.

Dr. Sky (DrSky.com ) Lost Dutchman SP
Radio and television personality Dr. Sky—aka Steve Kates—has been engaged in astronomy for over 30 years. He is often featured on programs promoting the night sky, aviation, and space science.

Huachuca Astronomy Club of Southeast AZ (HACAstronomy.com ) Kartchner Caverns SP
Founded in 1982 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, the club promotes interest in astronomy and related sciences through education and fellowship through meetings, public star parties, and other events.

Lake Havasu Astronomy Club (LakeHavasuAstronomy.org ) Cattail Cove SP
Founded in the 1990s, group meets monthly at Hasavu Public (Mohave County Branch) library. The group has recently joined the RECON network to measure the sizes of icy planetary bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Oracle Dark Sky Committee (Weasner.com/ODSC ) Oracle SP
Founded in April 2014 to pursue “International Dark-Sky Park” designation for Oracle SP. Designation was awarded by the International Dark-Sky Association in October 2014. Members include local residents and members of the Friends of Oracle SP.

Saddlebrooke SkyGazers Astronomy Club (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SBSKYGAZERS/info External Link) Oracle SP
Founded in 2005 for Saddlebrooke residents, the club promotes an interest in astronomy through monthly meetings with speakers and monthly star parties. Club members are also participate in local area star parties.

Sonora Astronomical Society (SonoraAstronomicalSociety.org ) Patagonia Lake SP
Founded in 1985 by Marvin Vann. The group exists to educate the public about amazing dark skies in Green Valley, Arizona. Monthly meetings often include guest speakers.

Superstition Mountain Astronomical League (bit.ly/1swUwhZ ) Lost Dutchman SP
Founded in 2009 (on March vernal equinox), the group is comprised of amateur astronomers residing in cities of Gold Canyon and Apache Junction, Arizona. The group uses astronomy to educate the community about science and nature.

Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TucsonAstronomy.org ) Catalina SP & Oracle SP
Founded in 1954, the group enjoys exploring, observing, and sharing the wonders of our solar system and beyond. A monthly meeting is held at the University of Arizona, Tucson and is open to anyone with a desire to discover the marvels of
the Universe.

City of Winslow (website ) & Navajo County Library District (website ) Homolovi SP

Dark Sky Committee Field Trip

On Thursday, May 21, 2015, the Oracle Dark Skies Committee had a very special visit to Mt. Lemmon Observatory and the SkyCenter as the guests of Steve Larson from the Catalina Sky Survey in recognition of the Committee's work to preserve the dark night sky in southern Arizona. The sky was cloudy for most of the day, but as we began our drive up the mountain the sky began to clear up and it remained clear for our entire visit.

Night Under the Stars Night Under the Stars

Event Report

The forecast for the weekend was not good with mostly cloudy skies and a 70 percent chance of rain. Fortunately, we had some clear skies for the afternoon solar viewing, and people stopped by to look through the solar telescopes including children, parents, and most of the Sierra Vista Tourism Commissioners. Ted, David, Nancy, Bert, Connie, Ken D, and I set up solar scopes. Rick Burke arrived a bit later.

Chris Impey's (Deputy Department Head, Astronomy, University of Arizona) talk was quite interesting. The Executive Director of the International Dark-Sky Association, Scott Feierabend attended the talk, and it was good to see him again. By the way, we have the application completed and ready to submit for Kartchner's Award of International Dark Sky Park! There were 70 adults, and 9 kids for the program.

Thanks to the generosity of HAC board member Ken Kirchner, we gave away a Celestron Firstscope to one very happy young man named Kevin from Coolidge AZ. I don't think I ever saw a boy jump so much. After the talk, we went outside, and sadly, the clear skies had completely clouded up. Most of us packed up by 7:30 pm and headed home. Some people wonder why we couldn't look through the clouds, we explained that's a task for radio astronomers. As I was driving away, I saw someone showing astronomy pictures on a laptop computer. That must have been Rick. Maybe we will have better luck for the next Kartchner Astronomy program now scheduled for March 12, 2016. —Bob Gent

Event Report

Catalina State Park, AZ, about 20 miles east of home in Tucson, about 2700 ft/820 meters elevation.

Weather: About 75 F at sunset, 60 F when we quit after 9 PM. Rolling overcast and open spaces all day, some thinning at sunset, hardly any ground wind but the competing cloud elements to the north leaving but heavier weather from the south easing in had the overcast miss the forecast by being about three hours early.

Seeing and Transparency: Seeing was a little rocky due to upper level winds when a hole could be found. Transparency varied from around 90% overcast near sunset as predicted, clearing shortly thereafter to about 60% moving cloud that was supposed to drop to 40% until after 11 PM, but never did. After about 8 PM, virtually total cloud cover.

Equipment:

10" f/10 Meade SCT on Atlas EQ-G mount, focal reduced to f/5 to start the video show.

Mallincam Xterminator Astronomical Video System, which includes thermoelectric (Peltier) internal cooling and an external heat sink mount with two fans to reduce or eliminate hot pixels on extended integration runs, as well as newly developed circuitry called Amp Glow Reduction along with a new Sony chip that features much more sensitivity that earlier chips. Camera equivalent focal length is 8 mm, with about 50 degrees Apparent Field of View. Equivalent to an 8mm Plossl eyepiece.

19" QFX 12V LCD monitor.

My usual process is to start at native f/10 for planets or comets to get image size, then drop to f/5 for the larger field for some objects such as the Orion Nebula or larger galaxies like M82 (Bode's Nebula or Cigar galaxy) or M51, the Whirlpool, then dropping to f/3.2 for other eye candy to fit the open clusters into the Field of View. This time, looking up, Jupiter at the moment was not very clear so I went with f/5 for M42, the Orion Nebula, which was clear as I was setting up. Without focal reduction, it would be running at 317X, nearly overdriving the scope on a good day so focal reduction on larger scopes is essential for field of view, and for reducing the exit pupil and placing enough energy on the chip. With the wrong focal reduction configuration, however, field curvature is introduced so focus is lost around the edges and it it is possible to introduce coma (stars around the margin looking misshapen, as though out of collimation) and possible clipping of the field with vignetting.

Setup was a real thrash due to my own forgetfulness. To run the setup, I need two 12V lines. One goes to the monitor, the other goes to a five line distribution octopus that comes with the camera to power the mount, camera, dew heaters, and guide equipment at the mount head to save cable runs. But one of the lines was dead, and I left five spares at home in the garage. Then I remembered that in the old configuration before the octopus and single 100 Amp Hour Deep Cycle battery, I used two 35 AH batteries. One fed the monitor, the biggest power draw, the other fed the camera and mount. I still had the old shorty cable with the monitor, and had brought one of the 35 AH batteries as a backup, so eventually I was saved. But it took so long to untangle the mess and get it right, it was past sunset and time to do the sunset sky tour.

I try to make the sky walks interesting by introducing other cultures besides the standard Greek, and point out the human calling to the sky in all cultures. After all, with now virtually total overcast except around Orion and the Big Dipper, over 35 visitors made the trip to attend the event. With Venus very bright, and Jupiter a moderate beacon in the sky, I started with the explanation of the ecliptic, the path of the sun through the year and named so because that's the line along which eclipses can occur, if the moon's tilted orbit is favorable. But this is also called the Zodiac, or in Greek Zodiakos Kyklos, the cycle of living things (think "zoo"), even Libra, the scales of justice with a lady holding them. With no sky, I went back in history to nearly a millenia before the Greek zodiac when the Celts had a similar cycle, with 12 months, each highlighted by a tree that thrived in that month. There is a connection to the Celts. driven from n orthern Europe by the barbarians and settling in the British Isles, picking up some Roman mythology with the feast of Saturnalia being in December, and the tree of the month being a fir tree, that was brought into the homes with the thought that they would bring winter life into the dwelling. Well, when Christianity was spreading across Europe and into England, the Saturnalia holiday of the pagans was adapted by Christianity so now we have a Christmas tree. Don't need any sky to talk about that.

We also discussed the aspects of light use that would affect the audience, like overuse of light causing the expense of overbuilding capacity, and the production raising the carbon footprint as well as recent discoveries of mental and physical health issues related to excess urban lighting. One of the main reasons we hold this event is to raise environmental awareness, including the effects of light. Lots of economic cost to the public for unwise use of lighting.

I told some of the Native American thoughts about the sky that really didn't need constellations to point to, mostly Seminole and Cherokee points of view about what the stars are and what they signify. Since we did have Jupiter and the Orion Nebula available so we broke up and grabbed targets.

I was running way behind, and no Polaris to align on. I went back to the video setup and the sky was not allowing me to do a regular alignment but a sucker hole opened near Orion so I did a one star align on Rigel (perfect) and jumped to M42, the Orion Nebula. I just got the Trapezium in, and started the integration to get the nebula, we could see it begin to grow in the monitor, and all heck broke loose with swirling clouds. No Joy in Mudville.

We reverted to talking about occasional appearances of Polaris and the Big Dipper and certain Plains Indian, Navajo, and Persian meanings to some of the elements as well as the multi-dynasty Egyptian use of their north star, which for us is Thuban in Draco, half way between the bowl of the Little Dipper and the handle of the Big Dipper, because the Earth wobbles like a top spinning down and the pole star shifts. With the bowl of the Big Dipper available along with the Big Dipper, I was abl e to relay the Cowboy Clock method of telling time on a cattle drive, but no luck on video. Bizarre effects when the electronics try to do tricks with clouds. Jupiter alternated between occasionally burning through over bright, then when the shutter speed was changed it disappeared, so I spent about an hour toggling shutter speeds to no purpose although an occasional two striped ball would fit the electronics, but the clouds would come or go and we'd be hunting the image again. Gave up, packed up, and left about 9:30. Lots of good talk with the fifty or so hearty souls who stuck around, but a weather bust.

Jim O'Connor
Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association

Event Report

We started the afternoon with solar observing of sunspots and prominences through filtered telescopes. This was made possible by the high tech telescopes that Rick, David and Nancy, Bert, Ken, and others brought. The weather was quite breezy and party cloudy, but we were able to see through the breaks in the clouds. During early afternoon, the seeing was not good due to high winds, but later in the afternoon and evening it improved.

During the solar observing, we had a surprise distinguished visitor. One man walked up to my solar telescope, and we spoke a while about the astronomy events at Kartchner. I asked who he was and he said "I am Gary, the co-discoverer of Kartchner Caverns." Ted and I talked to discoverer Gary Tenen and took quite a few photos. Here's one of my photos.

Thanks to the Planetary Science Institute, I was able to show off some rare meteorites during the afternoon. Many were amazed to be able to hold pieces of Mars and Vesta in their hands. Thanks to PSI for making this possible!

At 5:30 pm, NASA Solar System Ambassador, Ted Forte, gave a great talk about the robotic exploration of the giant asteroid Vesta, the Dwarf planet Ceres, Saturn, Mars, and more. His handout for the children were quite popular. We also discussed the importance of dark skies and the outdoor lighting codes of Cochise County and Serra Vista.

After Ted's talk, we met back in the observing areas where we were pleasantly surprised to see more telescopes. Several people from Tucson, including TAAA set up scopes. Ted brought his 18-incher, and I saw a very good view of Comet Lovejoy though it. Bill and Katherine brought their new 10-inch Meade SCT. One person, from TAAA brought a 20-inch Dobsonian telescope -- Thanks to all for bringing scopes! Here's a photo showing a few of us setting up and waiting for the skies to get dark.

We had great views of Jupiter, including a shadow transit of one of the Galilean moons. At my scope, we also observed the Double Cluster, the Great Orion Nebula, the Pleiades, and other wonders of the night sky. Throughout the day and evening we had to look around the partly cloudy skies, but there were enough clear spots for us to do some fairly good observing.

The event was well attended. For the evening observing, we'd estimate more that 100 people observed trough our telescopes. The campground was full, and there was a wedding that night. The man who's daughter was being married visited me a couple times.

Thank you to all and clear skies,

Bob Gent
AZ State Parks HAC Group Astronomy Coordinator
Planetary Science Institute Docent,
Member of the board and past president, Huachuca Astronomy Club
Sierra Vista, AZ

MAR 21 Oracle SP - IDA Celebration Event!

Event Report

Saturday, March 21, was, effectively, an outreach event for a public celebration for a new International Dark Sky Park, followed by an outreach at night for newly trained club members and bringing classroom information to the outdoors.

Saturday started with a celebration at Oracle State Park. After an extensive effort by community organizations and Arizona State Park staff, the International Dark Sky Association has designated OSP an International Dark Sky Park. Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association was asked to join with the club from Saddlebrooke to support the celebration with solar observing in the afternoon, and night observing. I was already committed to supporting a separate night event at TAAA's club observing site when I was asked to help, so Jim Knoll and I did the solar support while other club members supported the evening session.

The three solar scopes were Jerry Farrar's Lunt 60mm pressure tuned instrument with a binoviewer installed, and Jim Knoll's and my identical Lunt LS60THa solar telescopes. Jim's was operated visually by eyepiece, mine was running with a Mallincam Junior Pro astronomical video camera feeding a 19" QFX LCD monitor.

Between about 12:45 and 4 PM we showed the live, active sun to about fifty visitors to the small park on the back side of the Catalina Mountains. In the monitor, the sun was putting on an interesting show. The Active Region we have been observing since March 5, and saw go into extremely high activity in the time of our solar outreach at the International Wildlife Museum on March 7, causing radio outages along the Pacific and repeated on March 12, was still active to a lesser extent. The opening in the chromosphere with the photospere cold spot was still visible. There were a half-dozen high energy magnetic field effects starting up in the opposite half of the sun near the limb, causing the appearance of some small associated sunspots by the time we broke up. In addition, there were several extremely long filament remains from prior activity, and new hot zones starting up on the diagonal limb area from the new active regions starting up, although prominences were no t very strongly present. We seemed to have the benefit of observing activity head-on.

The day was filled with music, demonstrations under a tent from Multiple Mirror Telescope and other groups, and just a general all-around uplifting experience. Very friendly visitors interested in the activity on the sun, and an overall special environment commensurate with the purpose of the gathering.

At 4 PM, the official awards ceremony and well-deserved awards and recognitions were begun. Since I needed to be seventy miles away for club activities, I packed up as quietly as I could, and carried my equipment to my truck. It was clear as I was packing up and listening to the stream of dignitaries and participants celebrate the new International Dark Sky Park status, that Mike Weasner and his committee of folks who moved mountains with the Friends of Oracle State Park, along with Steve Haas and the park staff, deserved the highest recognition for their accomplishment. As I was leaving the celebration, I was privileged to see the unveiling of the new sign for OSP, declaring it an International Dark Sky Park. Now we have to push our efforts at Catalina State Park, where we'll be doing our quarterly night outreach on April 11.

Jim O'Connor
Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association

Milky Way Rising Over Oracle SP

Mike Weasner of the Oracle Dark Skies Committee with another amazing time-lapse video of the Milky Way rising over Oracle SP. There is no audio track to this piece. The Oracle Dark Skies Committee (ODSC) is asking groups and individuals to write "letters of support" to receive a designation as an International Dark Sky Park. Learn more

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