This Pima party was out of this world

Astronomy enthusiasts and some of Pima’s telescopes dot a parking lot Feb. 15 at East Campus, when the Amateur Astronomy Association hosted a Star Party.

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On Feb. 15, amatuer atronomers, enthusiasts and students gravitated toward Pima Community College’s East Campus for a free star party.

“Pima’s best kept secret,” said John Zumbrennen, Pima’s one and only astronomy specialist. 

The event brought in a diverse crowd of 160 to 200 kids, teachers and the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association. The association hosts 225 star parties per year. For this event, seven to eight telescopes were used.

I arrived just before the sunset and participated in the sun viewing. The sun can be viewed through a telescope, though the most interesting part was viewing it from specialized binoculars. 

Once the sun set, it was a perfect night for what the astronomers called “seeing.” Normally, the light of the moon interferes with the telescopes, but the moon was barely visible.

 On that evening, I could see the planet Venus without a telescope. Venus has phases like the moon, and it was full during the party. 

Curious as to which telescope was the best? 

“Bigger is always better,” Zumbrennen said, laughing.

Luckily, there were two big telescopes at the event. One of the monitors displayed a star that was thousands of times brighter than the sun.

 Another image was a nebula (a space cloud) which is the remnants of a super nova. a nebula will eventually will give birth to another star a billion years from now. 

Pima is home to three dome telescopes. Two are identical and one is for sun viewing. 

Pima also has solstice and equinox walls, which let you see the sunrise. There is also a small planetarium on East Campus, where the dome originally was used for one of Pima’s telescopes. Also, the projector in the planetarium accurately can map out the stars and constellation locations.

The telescopes at Pima also were able to capture beautiful images of the moon and a Transit of Mercury (when Mercury  crosses the sun and is able to be viewed from a telescope) an extremely rare capture. 

This night was fascinating and very educational. Zumbrennen hopes to host more of these events in the future and hopes to have a telescope built at Pima’s West Campus. 

“We do star parties year round to share the joy of astronomy and educate the public,” said Jim Knoll, manager of the association.