BY AMY SAYLE
North Carolina hosts the biggest star party in the universe (at least we think it’s the biggest) – and you’re invited!
The 4th annual NC Statewide Star Party happens April 8 and 9, 2016, as a kickoff to the two-week-long NC Science Festival. More than 50 sites across the state, from the mountains to the coast, will offer skywatching events for the public on April 8 or 9.
These Star Party hosts include state parks, astronomy clubs, planetariums, nature centers, universities, and schools, as well as one cemetery.
Image: North Carolina’s 2016 Statewide Star Party features 52 public skywatching events from the mountains to the coast.
What might you do at a Star Party event?
1. Look through a telescope. Virtually every Star Party event will offer telescope observing (weather permitting), many of them with the generous help of volunteers from local astronomy clubs. The telescope operators will help you look at a variety of celestial objects.
2. Observe the Sun. Several sites will offer daytime events with safe solar observing, including Umstead State Park (Raleigh), Yadkin County Park (Yadkinville), Marbles Kids Museum (Raleigh), and the UNC Expo (Chapel Hill),
3. Observe the Moon. Maybe. On April 8, 2016, the Moon will be a very thin crescent that will set around an hour and a half after sunset. On April 9th, the Moon sets a bit later.
4. View Jupiter. This planet is currently well-placed in the sky at nightfall and is easy to spot with just the unaided eye. Peek through a telescope to see four of Jupiter’s moons. If you go to a Star Party event on April 8 and then another on April 9, you’ll discover what Galileo did more than four hundred years ago: the moons are orbiting Jupiter.
5. Participate in other astronomy activities. Depending on which event you choose, you can also listen to constellation stories (Apex), take a “space shuttle” hay ride (Grifton), paint a personal planet (Wilkesboro), crawl inside a portable planetarium (Swansboro), make kid-friendly crafts (Burlington), walk the solar system to scale (Rougemont), discover how to keep your night skies dark (Kill Devil Hills), make a star chart to take home (Todd), or orbit the Sun as if you’re planet Venus (Lumberton).
6. Find your way in the sky. Thanks to the generous funding of NC Space Grant, all Star Party hosts have been provided with a kit full of hands-on astronomy activities on the theme of “find your way in the sky.” Depending on which activities the hosts have decided to use, you might make a star clock, learn a “handy” way to measure the sky, create a constellation, draw the Moon, or understand more about what you see (or don’t see) through a telescope.
Find a Statewide Star Party event near you by checking the NC Science Festival calendar. Most events are free. A few have limited space and require advance registration.
Important! Most Star Party events are weather permitting. Check with individual sites about any back-up plans they may have in case of clouds or rain.