“Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.” – Plato
From the Big Dipper to the Milky Way Galaxy, kids and adults alike have long been intrigued by stargazing and all its wonder. We caught up with Greg McKay, president of the Las Vegas Astronomical Society (LVAS) to learn more about what attendees can expect at the Skye & Stars, an evening under the stars at Skye Canyon Park on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016.
SC: Tell us about how you got involved in astronomy and the Las Vegas Astronomical Society.
McKay: I’ve been interested in astronomy since I was 11 years old when I found a telescope in our attic, dusted it off and set it up. Over the past 40 years, I have been very passionate about astronomy. I’m currently serving a two-year term as president of the LVAS. Lots of people follow us on Facebook to keep up to date on our public events at no cost. Our dues-paying members also enjoy discounts on astronomical products and access to the Mount Potosi Observatory.
SC: What can attendees expect to see at the Stargazing event at Skye Canyon Park?
McKay: At that time of the year, the biggest object is the moon. We will also have good views of Mars and Saturn, which is a huge draw! Everyone is blown away when they see Saturn’s moons and
rings through a telescope. We will have several telescopes for attendees to look through. We will also have two Mallincam astronomy video cameras. Instead of looking into the telescope, you get to see amazing detail, such as Nebulas (clouds of interstellar gas and dust) and faint galaxies like the Whirlpool Galaxy right on a TV screen.
SC: Is there anything of particular interest happening around that time?
McKay: There is the possibility of seeing an Iridium flare, which is a small orbiting satellite that reflects sunlight as it streaks across the sky. Iridium flares are brighter than Venus but only last about 8 seconds. Kids love them because they appear and disappear like magic. Iridium flares can only be predicted about a week out, so we won’t know for sure until just before the event. We may also see the International Space Station, but its prediction rate is also only good 7-10 days out.
SC: Is Skye Canyon an excellent location from which to stargaze?
McKay: To enjoy stargazing with the naked eye you have to get about 60 to 80 miles outside of town, particularly in a city with lights as bright as Las Vegas. Skye Canyon is nicely removed from the Strip, but it is still best to use a telescope for stargazing. Also, the majority of important astronomical items we’ll be looking at are toward the south past the city.
SC: What should attendees bring to the event?
McKay: Bring your friends and family, a picnic, your questions and make sure to dress appropriately for the weather. I also ask people to refrain from flash photography, which can severely affect night vision. It takes about 15 minutes for your eyes to re-adjust to the evening sky after each flash.
Picnicking and music start at 6:30 p.m. and the telescopes will go on at 7:30 p.m., about 30 minutes after sunset. People can look through all of the telescopes, ask questions or just hang out and socialize with their neighbors and our astronomers.
This event is free and open to the public. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic of their favorite food and beverages. There will be three options of picnic boxes from Rachel’s Kitchen available for $10 inside Skye Center.
Attendees also have a chance to enter Skye Canyon’s Check-in & Win social media contest. The first five people to check-in at Skye Canyon and post a photo on Facebook or Twitter and show their phone at the Rachel’s Kitchen area inside Skye Center win a picnic box for two! Three other winners selected at random after the event is over will win $25 gift cards to Whole Foods. For more information about this and other Skye Canyon events, follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SkyeCanyon/events.