Jan 20

Future Stellar Vista Observatory in Kanab Plans Supermoon Eclipse Star Party

An astronomical wonder coming up Sunday, January 20th is exciting a team of residents working to bring about the creation of a space observatory in Kanab. When it’s built, the observatory being planned for Kanab would likely be the largest public facility of its kind in southern Utah. Right now, the Stellar Vista Observatory (SVO) undergoing architectural schematic design and site planning at Mesa Design, an architectural firm in Kanab, while the team is working to develop the many aspects of a formal project proposal and a solid fundraising plan. The SVO working group welcomes the support and participation of the community.

The educational facility would include a primary telescope housed under a roll-off roof or dome, a range of smaller portable scopes for public enjoyment, classroom with digital connectivity to the main scope, an outdoor amphitheater for constellation viewing, bathrooms and parking area.

For a number of reasons, Kanab is an ideal location for an astronomical observatory. First, the community values its starry nights and is one of just three in all of Utah to enact an outdoor lighting ordinance in late 2017 to preserve the wonderful quality of the night skies in and around the city. Equally important, the larger region in which Kanab is located offers exceptionally dark skies thanks to nearby National and State Parks, National Forests, Monuments and Public Lands surrounding the city, as well as the Paiute Reservation which has the distinction of being designated the world’s first “Dark Sky Nation” by the International Dark Sky Association, based in Tucson. Kanab enjoys a steady flow of visitors traveling through southern Utah and the Arizona Strip, putting the community in ideal geographic position to capture a substantial share of the astro-tourism boom rapidly gaining momentum around the Colorado Plateau. What’s more, the City offers a wide range of amenities making it a comfortable, full service destination.

So what is that wonderful celestial event that’s generating so much excitement? Throughout the evening of January 20, a “perigee-syzygy” of the Earth-Moon-Sun system will occur over Kanab. In layman’s terms, that’s a total eclipse of the Supermoon! Kanab’s Stellar Vista Observatory group is collaborating with the Southern Utah Space Foundation based in Cedar City, UT, to organize its second public star party on that date; this time to view the eclipse, as well as other heavenly objects through big telescopes out at the Jackson Flat Reservoir boat launch parking area, beginning at 7:00 pm.

The action starts off with the moon-rise over the Eastern horizon at 5:24 pm, as dusk begins to settle over the Vermilion Cliffs. Weather permitting, that will be a beautiful sight because at its perigee, the point in the moon’s orbit around Earth when it’s closest to us, the glowing orb is 7% bigger and 16% brighter than an average full Moon! But what’s the other weird word, “syzygy” refer to? That astronomical term denotes the straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies; Earth, Moon and Sun, that causes the lunar eclipse. When it occurs, it’s a great time for a star party!

And what a show it will be because when syzygy occurs, the full moon glows a dark rusty red, and the sky, ordinarily quite bright on a full moon night, goes dark. It’s an ethereal sight, unforgettable to the unaided eye, but especially so through a powerful telescope!

Beginning at 7:36 pm, Earth’s penumbra starts touching the Moon’s face and by 8:33, the lunar eclipse begins to slide across, gradually turning the entire Moon red, signaling the onset at 9:41 pm of the total eclipse. Eclipse maximum occurs at 10:12 pm. If you’ve never see one before, and even if you have, it’s truly a memorable and spine tingling sight.

Other activities taking place at Sunday’s lunar eclipse star party in Kanab will include Q&A and illustrations suitable for kids and adults of what a perigee syzygy actually looks like in three dimensional space; constellation viewing guided by an astronomer; moon watching of course; and viewing of deep sky objects like nearby galaxies, distant nebulae and star clusters during the eerily darkened phase of the eclipse. If you own a telescope or binoculars, consider bringing them to the party. The proximity of one or two travel trailers or campers that could offer respite to sky watchers from the winter night’s chill would be welcome!

Donations toward the design and construction of Kanab’s future Stellar Vista Observatory (SVO) will be accepted by the Southern Utah Space Foundation, (SUSF) and several beautiful enlargements of celestial objects will be offered in exchange for contributions to SUSF. If you missed SVO’s December 7, 2018 star party, this is your chance to catch the action. That one drew an enormous crowd of more than 150 enthusiastic residents!

Warm-up facilities and free hot chocolate will be available. To get there, head south from Kanab on US-89A to Kaneplex Drive and turn onto the dirt road going to the south end of the dam at Jackson Flat Reservoir. The star party will set up on the East side of the new paved parking area where the boat launch is. Dress warm and bring a chair, a red flashlight if you have one, blankets and take in the celestial beauty of 2019’s total lunar eclipse. Say a good word for clear skies this Sunday night!

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