Although you may prefer to use your smartphone for navigation in the Twenty-First Century, stargazing is still a pastime enjoyed by all ages. No matter how much knowledge you may or may not have of the objects in the night sky, everyone still marvels at a gigantic, yellow full moon on the horizon, a lunar eclipse, finding the Big Dipper, and watching the International Space Station zip across the sky.
Fountain Hills is an extra special place when it comes to stargazing. We are the world’s 17th Dark Sky Community, and the only one that is located next to a major metropolitan city. We enjoy a darker sky than our nearby neighbors in the Phoenix metro area because of the Pima reservation to the south, the Fort McDowell Yavapai reservation to the east, McDowell Mountain Regional Park to the north, and the shielding provided by the McDowell Mountains to the west. On a clear summer night, the Milky Way can still be seen from Fountain Hills!
For five years now, the Fountain Hills Astronomy Club has done a great deal to help residents and visitors discover what’s in the night sky. Club members assist the Fountain Hills Library with their monthly public skywatch, or Star Party, in Centennial Circle by bringing telescopes that anyone can look through. Visitors can get a closer look at planets, galaxies, nebulae, and the surface of the moon. They also assist anyone wishing to learn how to use their own astronomical equipment or offer advice for those wanting to purchase a telescope.
In addition to the monthly Star Parties, the club holds monthly “Astronomy on Tap” events at local restaurants and breweries around Town. These are informal gatherings where members can meet, interact, and hear a short presentation about some astronomical item of interest. Past events have covered the Apollo missions to the moon and the recent activity around the first images of a “black hole.”
Ted Blank, a co-founder of the club, has a wealth of knowledge and a passion for helping others connect with the sky above. He is a NASA Solar System Ambassador and recently participated in two expeditions in Argentina and South Africa to capture the occultation of an asteroid. He organizes the monthly Star Parties and serves on the board of the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association.
For more information and to sign up for the club’s mailing list, visit http://www.fhastronomy.org/.