Bryce Canyon National Park in southwest Utah is famous not only for its bright orange, yellow and red rock formations, but for having some of the darkest night skies in the country.
This year, Bryce Canyon will also host its 14th annual Astronomy Festival, which will feature talks by Alex Cherney, Australia’s award-winning photographer and amateur astronomer, as well as an extensive program that includes model rocket building activities and constellation tours using huge telescopes provided by the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and the Astronomy League.
Bryce Canyon is one of growing number of venues across the country that feature night sky activities, which involve everything from educational talks about the constellations to updates on the latest developments with NASA’s space program.
Privately-owned and operated campgrounds can serve as unique “base camps” for night sky activities because many are located close to national parks, space centers and observatories where night sky activities are often planned.
Growing numbers of campgrounds are also developing their own night sky programs. These include:
- Palm Canyon Hotel & RV Resort in Borrego Springs, Calif.: This resort has an annual “Nightfall" event each fall, attracting astronomy enthusiasts from throughout California to explore Borrego Springs’ famous dark skies. This year’s Nightfall event will be Oct. 23 - 26.
- The Springs at Borrego RV Resort in Borrego Springs, Calif.: This park often features astronomy talks by famed night sky photographer and astronomy Dennis Mammana. The talks are accompanied by buffet style dinners and are followed by stargazing and planetary viewing through telescopes.
If you’re interested in a specific space-related venue, you’re in luck. Many have campgrounds close by:
- Chamberlin Observatory at the University of Denver, Colo.: The observatory opens its doors for public planet and star viewings several times each week.
- Dudley Observatory, Schenectady, N.Y.: This facility offers nighttime astronomy talks and viewing opportunities on several Fridays this year, including June 27, July 25, Aug. 22, Sept. 19, Oct. 17 and Nov. 14. Families are invited to bring their binoculars and telescopes to these events.
- Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, Calif.: Featuring an IMAX theater, Griffith offers many exhibits and star parties throughout the year, which give the public a chance to speak with astronomy enthusiasts and view the stars and planets through their telescopes. Star parties are scheduled for July 5, Aug. 2, Aug. 30, Oct. 4, Nov. 1 and Dec. 27.
- Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla.: In addition to offering an up-close view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and other historic spacecraft, the Kennedy Space Center offers guided tours, interactive activities, IMAX space films and daily briefings by NASA astronauts. Special lunches with NASA astronauts are also available, which provide opportunities for the public to ask questions and obtain autographs.
- Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz.: A national historic landmark, Lowell is one of the oldest observatories in the United States. Research conducted at this observatory hascontributed greatly to our knowledge of space – from the discovery of Pluto to the first detection of water in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet. The observatory has frequent star talks and evening viewing opportunities.
- Star Parties at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M.: Hosted by rangers who can discuss nocturnal creatures, cultural folklore and astronomy, these star parties are scheduled for June 21, July 19, Aug. 23, Sept. 20 and Oct. 18.
- Stargazing at the Public Observatory at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.: This event will take place June 18.
- Summer Night Sky Events at Sunset Crater National Monument, Arizona
): This park, located roughly 30 minutes from Flagstaff, features a crater created by a volcanic eruption. Park attractions include astronomy presentations courtesy of park staff and volunteers. Summer night sky events are scheduled for June 21 and July 19 and include constellation tours and telescope viewing.
Can’t make it to any of the events listed above? Don’t worry, there are still astronomy events happening throughout the year that just about everyone in the United States can see. Here’s a great list of all the night sky events coming up this year.