The 2015 Tucson Public Star Party is a go!

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, January 12, 2015

Pima Community College’s East Campus once again will be the setting for the third annual Tucson Public Star Party, which will take place February 14. Just look at the color of that sky! // Pima Community College
On Saturday, February 14, 2015, Astronomy magazine will host the third annual all-day skywatching party at the East Campus Observatory of Pima Community College (PCC). The event also will feature illustrated talks on a variety of subjects. Activities begin at 10 a.m. and continue all the way through 9 p.m.

This year’s speakers include Jim O’Connor of the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA). At 11 a.m. in PCC's Community Room (quite near to the observatory), Jim will present “What’s Up There?” a basic exposure to the fundamentals of the night sky, including how constellations came to be, the nature of our solar system, star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and comets. He also includes a brief look at the evolution of stars.

At 1 p.m., Scott Kardel, president of the International Dark-Sky Association, will give the first afternoon talk, titled “Going Dark.” Of the presentation, Kardel says, “We live in an age of light pollution, but a surge of new Dark Sky Places around the world is fueling a growing interest in astro tourism. In this talk, I’ll explain the ins and outs of Dark Sky Places and how they can help us all solve the problems of light pollution.”

At 2 p.m., Dolores Hill, co-lead of the OSIRIS-Rex “Target Asteroids!” program, will present “OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission to Bennu: Approaching New Frontiers.” The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification and Security - Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is a NASA New Frontiers spacecraft mission to be launched in 2016. Its prime objective is to return and analyze a pristine sample from the surface of the carbon-rich near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 2023.

At evening twilight, members of the Tucson Amateur Astronomical Association removed solar filters from their telescopes and began pointing them at the night’s wonders during the 2014 Tucson Public Star Party. // Michael E. Bakich
Hill will show how amateur astronomers are important partners in the field of asteroid science, from making much needed follow-up observations of newly discovered near-Earth objects to conducting ongoing observations of little-known asteroids. They are able to provide better geographic coverage and are able to observe more often than professional astronomers. She will discuss how observations submitted to “Target Asteroids!” aid the OSIRIS-REx mission science team, future missions to asteroids, and our understanding asteroids potentially hazardous to Earth.

At 3 p.m., the final presentation will be by Astronomy Editor David J. Eicher. His talk, “Does the Universe Really Care About Itself? Communicating Astronomy in the 21st Century,” surveys the media world we now live in. With pseudoscience and inaccuracy dominating TV, blogs, and the Internet, Eicher asks whether we will ever get back to a realistic view of astronomy and science as they really are.

Throughout the day, members of the Tucson group will operate telescopes that will give visitors safe, high-quality views of some of the features visible on the Sun. Then, about an hour after our daytime star sets (at 6:08 p.m. Tucson time), we’ll begin the second phase of skywatching: nighttime observing.

And in addition to telescopes set up by the astronomy club, the Pima Community College Observatory will be open throughout the day and night. Its solar telescope will follow the Sun in the daytime, and its 14-inch telescope will target deep-sky treats at night.

Outside of the illumination from Tucson itself, little scattered light will pollute the desert sky. The Moon won’t rise until after 3 a.m. Even before it gets dark, TAAA members will turn their telescopes toward brilliant Venus low in the west. Unfortunately, they won’t show much detail on Earth’s sister planet. Luckily, the giant planet Jupiter will be dominating the eastern sky. It lies in front of the stars of the constellation Gemini the Twins. Instruments will reveal lots of cloud detail on this world, including the two main belts that circle Jupiter’s equator.

As twilight ends, the Pleiades star cluster (M45) will come into view. This will be a great object to view through binoculars and telescopes with a wide field of view. The Orion Nebula (M42) also will be a highlight. This star-forming region is the middle “star” in the constellation of the Hunter. And if past years are any indication, TAAA members will be showing the public many of their favorite winter celestial sights.

Fellowship with other stargazing enthusiasts, interesting speakers, and the prospect of clear skies mean that the 2015 Tucson Public Star Party is shaping up as a “must-see” event. So, when you make plans to come out, be sure to bring family and friends. And remember, the star party will be held February 14 at the Pima Community College East Campus Observatory, 8181 East Irvington Road, southeast of the center of the city.

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