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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
5:42 PM Fri, Dec. 14th

Reach for the stars

PRESCOTT Its amazing how many observatories call Arizona home.

The National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Whipple Observatory, Steward Mirror Lab, Mount Graham International Observatory, Lowell Observatory even the Vatican has one here.

Then there are the government agencies and universities in Arizona that are involved in space research, including the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff that is working on projects such as the Mars Rover, the Northern Arizona University Physics and Astronomy Department, and the University of Arizona Lunar & Planetary Laboratory.

Somehow, the small Prescott Astronomy Club has gathered representatives of all these observatories and organizations in one place at the Prescott Public Library for a gathering on Saturday, April 23.

Weve got a lot of key observatories that are going to participate, so its going to be a first for Prescott, said the local clubs president, Leon Corcoran, who worked on several major space programs himself before retiring. Some of the major players in the space program are coming.

Due to the clear skies in our state, Arizona has a great diversity of astronomical observatories, educational organizations and scientific facilities for space exploration and astronomical studies.

The event is called Astronomy Across Arizona, and its just one of a multitude of free events in the Prescott Astronomy Clubs second annual Spotlight on the Stars celebration during International Astronomy Week April 17-23.

Along with all the experts to answer questions, the Saturday event includes videos, handouts and displays.

The local club chose Astronomy Across Arizona for its week-long theme, too, after members contemplated just how important Arizonas role in space research has become.

We got inspired by the thought of highlighting the amount of astronomy-related things in Arizona, club member Meghan Taylor-Gebler said. The club has been working on the schedule for an entire year, with the help of astronomy experts at places such as the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff.

It sort of just grew by the grace of these organizations giving their help, Taylor-Gebler said.

All of the events except the star gazing will take place at the Prescott Public Library. Some of the scientists also will give presentations at local schools, including Planetary Geologist Jeff Johnson, a Mars Rover project leader based at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff.

Major scientists from all the major facilities in Arizona are going to be here, said Sharon Seymour, who is helping to organize the event from the library side. This year, its the major astronomy event for the entire state. And its the librarys largest event of the year, too.

Its difficult to focus on just one event during the April 17-23 Astronomy Across Arizona celebration.

Many are hands-on events that the audience can participate in, such as gazing at sunspots through special equipment, visiting Northern Arizona Universitys traveling computer and telescope lab, learning how to use your telescope, gazing at the stars with a variety of the clubs telescopes, and the finale Star Party where children can make things such as sundials and eat astronaut ice cream.

Other events will focus on feasts for the eyes, with the latest photos of Mars and a planetarium projection of the starry sky on the library ceiling. Some of these shows will provide the audience with 3-D glasses to make the photos even more real.

Several events relating to the ongoing Mars Rover project have club members really excited:

The Jet Propulsion Lab based in Pasadena, Calif., is sending some actual Mars Rover production parts. They include a prototype of a Rover arm, an airbag made of material such as that which helped the two Rovers land safely, a thermal blanket like the ones that protected the Rovers in flight, a rock ground with the same abrasion tool that the Rovers use to drill into Mars rocks, and two globes of Mars.

The U.S. Geological Survey is bringing its interactive Mars Rover game from Flagstaff, which includes a remote control mini-Rover and a computer that people in the audience can use to move the Rover around for excavations.

Johnson and his USGS colleagues will offer the latest information on the Mars Rover discoveries.

And NAU Astrophysics Professor Nadine Barlow will talk about how she helped choose Mars Rover landing sites.

People also can see the latest images from the Cassini-Huygen mission to Saturn and its moons.

All week, people can register at the library for a chance at free prizes, view the Spotlight on the Stars display on the library main floor, and check out featured space science books.

Local club member Jack Locke created plants, satellites and spacecraft that are hanging from the librarys ceiling. He even built a life-sized Mars Rover replica thats on display at the library all week.

Club members Gene and Carol Giermann created a Martian scene with an alien and astronaut that people can stick their heads into for photos. Its also at the library all week.

Last year, more than 2,000 people attended the week-long event.

We like the event because it brings lots of people to the library, and it gets schools involved, Seymour said.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com