Kartchner Caverns hosts astronomy night

[Source: azcentral.com]

Stars shine brighter away from city lights. That’s why astronomers look for remote places to place telescopes, and why stargazing events often take place in parks away from towns.

This weekend, Arizona State Parks invites you to spend an evening with astronomer Bob Gent at Kartchner Caverns State Park near Benson.

“He’s . . . an avid astronomer. He’s done it all over the country,” assistant park manager Chris DeMille said.

This is the second year of the event. “Last time we did this, we had five telescopes. This time we’re shooting for a little bit more.”

Visitors will be able to see Jupiter, Venus, craters of the moon, stars and galaxies. Gent is a past president of the Astronomical League and the International Dark Sky Association, and other astronomers will assist him during the event.

Visitors are asked to bring a folding chair and a flashlight covered with a red cap (available at sporting-goods stores). A piece of red cellophane placed over the flashlight beam also works. The event starts before sunset so people can learn a bit about astronomy before the viewing begins. The park’s café is closed at night, so bring snacks and drinks if desired. Bring a sweater or jacket, too.

“We’re at 4,600 feet, so it’s a little more comfortable,” DeMille said.

Kartchner Caverns is known for its colorful stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and other features. The park is at the base of the Whetstone Mountains, with views of the San Pedro Valley.

The park has two main caves open for tours, the Rotunda and the Big Room. The Big Room is open from Oct. 15 to April 15 and will be closed during this event.

Stargazers can camp at the park’s campground ($22 per night) or find a room in Benson.

Southeast Arizona has attractions in addition to the caverns.

“The city of Tombstone is about 30 minutes away from us,” DeMille said. “There’s also Ramsey Canyon, which is a nature preserve.”

Also within driving distance are Bisbee, with restaurants, galleries and a mine tour; Coronado National Memorial, with hiking trails and great scenery; and the Amerind Foundation, a museum with a top-notch collection of Native American art and artifacts near the Dragoon Mountains.

Details: Stargazing at Kartchner Caverns

When: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 11. Park hours are 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Where: Kartchner Caverns State Park. From central Phoenix, take Interstate 10 east past Tucson to Exit 302 at Benson. Take Arizona 90 about 9 miles south to the park entrance.

Admission: $6 per vehicle for stargazing. Cave tours, $18.95-$22.95.

Details: 520-586-4100, azstateparks.com/Parks/KACA.

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