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Sky's the limit Saturday

June 22, 2012

Area residents will get an opportunity to enjoy the rings of Saturn this weekend — compliments of the Big Spring State Park — as the local facility prepares to host its annual Stargazing Party atop Scenic Mountain Saturday.

“Sunset is approximately 9 p.m. and there will be a program as soon as it gets dark enough to see the projection, which is usually between 9:20 and 9:30 p.m.,” said Park Manager Ron Alton. “I'm going to ask the astronomy club members to bone up on their constellations so we can point some of them out.”

Slated for 8:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. near the park office at the top of Scenic Mountain, the program will offer something for everyone in the family, according to Alton.

“It’s one of the bigger events of the year for us,” said Alton. “It’s a fun and educational way to spend a Saturday night outdoors with your family. You can take a tour of the night sky with area amateur astronomy clubs.

“It’s a great chance for families to spend some quality time together, as well. It doesn’t matter how old you are, seeing the stars and the different heavenly bodies through a telescope is just amazing.”

Alton said the West Texas Amateur Astronomy Club from Midland will provide several high-powered telescopes for those attending to get a better look at the heavens.

“They’ve been really great in helping us put the stargazing event on each year,” said Alton. “They really love doing this. Most people who are into astronomy love to teach others about it, so there will be plenty of knowledgeable people to answer questions during the presentation.

“From the look of things right now, we should have a crescent moon that night. Saturn and Mars should also be within view, as well as M13, a bright globular, and possibly M31, which is a really nice galaxy to view.”

Alton said the Stargazing Party is a great chance for area residents to learn about astronomy, but it also serves an important purpose when the state of Texas begins looking at the park's budget, several of which are currently on the legislature's chopping block.

“We invite everyone to come out,” said Alton. “These events keep the state park finances going, especially in these times when budgets are under such a tremendous strain. Our state park is already being subsidized by the county and city and without their help, well, we wouldn't even have a state park right now. The state looks at attendance at these types of events when they decide how much to allocate, and those numbers are even more important than ever.”

Alton said he plans to set up an alternate date, just in case Mother Nature decides not to cooperate Saturday.

“If the weather doesn’t cooperate with us — we have too many clouds or it rains — we’ll reschedule the Stargazing for July,” he said.

Alton said no admission will be charged for the stargazing, but donations will be accepted. The park is located at No. 1 Scenic Drive, just off FM 700 near Wasson Road. For more information about the stargazing event, contact Alton at 263-4931.

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