Star party for the masses

Dozens of astronomy enthusiasts share their passion for the sky with hundreds of visitors at the Grand Canyon.
By | Published: June 29, 2006 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Grand Canyon Star Party
Jeremy McGovern
June 29, 2006
This year, the National Park Service expects more than 4 million visitors to Grand Canyon National Park. From June 17–24, amateur astronomers from throughout the Southwest showed the sky to many of these park attendees at the annual Grand Canyon Star Party (GCSP).

In the 1970s and 1980s, the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers visited some western national parks to introduce the night sky to tourists. As their visits waned, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA), largely through member Dean Ketelsen’s efforts, embraced this enthusiasm and began hosting the GCSP at the North and South Rims.

You won’t find the workshops, vendor displays, and obscure-object observing that typically appear at a star party. Instead, the volunteers spend their night ushering park visitors on a tour, showing bright planets and well-known deep-sky objects.

Grand Canyon Star Party scope field
Jeremy McGovern
Along with TAAA members, observers from astronomy groups in Arizona, California, and Nevada joined together to orchestrate the star party. Each night, the collective set up instruments ranging from big Dobsonians to medium-size refractors in the parking lot at Yavapai Point — a popular destination to watch the Sun set at the canyon. This position is strategic, because the group is able to entice hundreds of visitors nightly to peer at the sky.

During the day, some volunteers set up solar telescopes and show park visitors the Sun. Others tour the park, inviting people to meet later at Yavapai to see the views. The star party also includes visits to nearby Lowell Observatory and Meteor Crater.

Paul Marshall and his family came to the canyon from San Antonio. In his 40s, Marshall had never gazed through an eyepiece, but he appreciated of the opportunity.

“I’m a little embarrassed to say that I have never seen Jupiter or Saturn,” said Marshall. “It is long overdue —I can’t believe what I’ve missed.

For more information on the star party, visit the TAAA site.