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Out of this world

PRESCOTT ­ An out-of-this world series of presentations by expert astronomers in Prescott continues for its fourth year in 2007.

The Prescott Astronomy Club, itself filled with plenty of experts from wide-ranging fields of astronomy, has againjoined with the City of Prescott Parks and Recreation Department and the Prescott Public Library to put on a series of Star Talks, Starry Nights of stargazing, and the Spotlight on the Stars week-long event in April.

The dozens of events are all free.

Star Talks

Scientists from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univer-sity in Prescott and the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff will join the Star Talks for the first time this year.

The free Star Talks, on the third Thursday for seven months, return to the downtown library this year now that its renovation is complete.

They take place in the new Founders Suite room downstairs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of January, March, April, September, October and November. The only exception to the library location will be the Feb. 15 Star Talk at ERAU.

The Star Talks often feature spectacular images of distant objects, including the latest photos from Mars.

Starry Nights

The six free Starry Nights star parties continue at the upper ramada at Watson Lake on the northeast side of town, where the scenic Granite Dells make stargazers almost feel like they're on Mars.

For the first half-hour of each Starry Nights event, experts will help orient people to the sky. During the next two hours, people can stop by any time to gaze through club members' telescopes or get help using their own scopes or binoculars.

"It will be a nice opportunity for anybody who has any questions," said Astronomy Club President Bill McDonald, a retired Columbia University mechanical engineer who helped develop lunar seismograph equipment that astronauts put on the moon.

Free star charts and hot chocolate, courtesy of club member Karen Richmond, who owns the Cuppers Coffee House, also are available at these Starry Nights events. During the winter months, professional-grade outdoor heaters keep the gazing comfortable.

The first Starry Nights star party takes place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20.

A new addition to the Starry Nights this year will be a free two-night campout at Watson on May 11-12, said Diana Fister, lake parks and special projects superintendent for the Prescott Parks and Recreation Department.

"That part was so popular last year, with the kids running around on the grass until the wee hours," Fister recalled.

In fact, the Astronomy Club events get more and more popular with children every year, member Meghan Taylor-Gebler said. For example, the Skyview Middle School will create a "living science museum" for people to tour during the Spotlight on the Stars event this year.

Spotlight on the Stars

The fourth Spotlight on the Stars festival April 15-21 features a series of star talks and events at the library, culminating with a Watson Lake Star Party April 21.

The Spotlight on the Stars events will include sun viewing through special equipment, star parties, telescope construction demonstrations, gravity experiments, multi-media presentations, an update about the search for life on other planets, and a talk about the latest evidence of water on Mars.

More info on Web site

To see more details about Prescott Astronomy Club events, including its presentations at the Highlands Center for Natural History near Prescott this year, visit its new Web site at www.prescottastronomyclub.org.

The new site's home page features a different astronomical photo each day, NASA TV and links to astronomical news.

"It's much flashier than the old one," said club member Fulton Wright, a retired astronomy professor who now tours the world studying eclipses.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com

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