Everyone’s invited to reach for the stars Aug. 6 as Tony La Conte takes his Stargazing for Everyone program to the Glendale Main Library.
The free event, which is open to all ages, will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at 5959 W. Brown St.
The evening will begin with a 30-minute lecture and discussion followed by stargazing through several telescopes La Conte will set up outside the library.
“The August timeframe, we have the Perseids meteor shower,” La Conte said, adding it will peak around Aug. 11 and 12. “So we’ll talk about meteor showers, the history of meteors showers, things like that.”
Mars will be visible, having made its closest approach to the earth July 27, he said.
“So we’re going to be talking about Mars and a little bit of the history of observing Mars,” he said.
He’ll also talk about Jupiter, Saturn and Venus, which will all be visible to the naked eye Aug. 6.
Everyone who attends the event will get a star map for the month of August and La Conte will teach them how to use it.
After the lecture, the party will move outside where telescopes will be made available.
“If we get a decent weather night, they’ll be looking at the cloud bands of Jupiter, the Galilean moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, the phases of Venus,” La Conte said. “Venus is actually coming closer to the earth in its orbit, so Venus goes through phases just like the moon does.”
Unfortunately, a huge dust storm is currently taking place on Mars, he said.
“So Mars looks like kind of a pumpkiny orange basketball right now,” he said, adding if it weren’t for the dust storm, attendees would see the polar ice caps and dark surface features of the “Red Planet.”
La Conte said viewers don’t need high-powered telescopes to make out the details of the planets, and can in fact see them through a pair of binoculars.
“Like a 3-inch diameter telescope at about 100th power, you can see the rings of Saturn very clearly,” he said. “The moons of Jupiter are actually visible through a pair of binoculars, if you can hold them still. Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter. His telescope was only the diameter of a quarter, only 10 magnification. So if you have a 10 by 50 pair of binoculars, then you have a better telescope than Galileo had.”
La Conte’s love of stargazing began in 1953 when he and his family lived on Long Island, N.Y., and his parents took him to the American Museum of Natural History.
“Right adjacent to it is the Hayden Planetarium,” La Conte said. “And we did the whole museum thing all day long. We saw the dinosaurs and all the exhibits, and we caught the last show of the planetarium and I was just enthralled by the nighttime sky.”
His father served in the Marine Corps during World War II and was stationed in the Pacific where he learned the constellations, La Conte said.
“When he got home, over the next couple of months, he taught me the constellations and we’d stargaze right in the backyard,” he said. “Shortly after that, we got a telescope and the first thing I saw through the telescope was the rings of Saturn and I was hooked.”
La Conte said his goal is to get families back to the natural wonders of the sky.
“Everyone has an app on their iPhones, their noses are constantly down, their heads are down, and we have this wonderful, natural resource right above us every single night,” he said.
According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, the state boasts 300-plus clear nights a year.
“They’re just walking by, they’re missing it,” he said. “Everyone can go on the internet and download a spectacular image of galaxies and nebulas and exploded stars from the Hubble and from major observatories, but the real excitement is actually seeing the light live.”
La Conte said any night is a good night to stargaze.
“There are things to see every night,” he said. “If you have a pair of binoculars, you don’t have enough clear nights to see everything you can see in a pair of binoculars in one year.”
He said his favorite time of year is the August-September timeframe when the summer Milky Way is rising out of the southern desert.
“It just looks like a storm cloud coming up,” he said.
But January and February are great months for stargazers, as well, as they will see really bright stars around the constellation Orion.
“That is just a spectacular time,” La Conte said. “If you want to get the kids hooked on stargazing, you go out the end of January, February timeframe and it’s just spectacular.”
He said it’s best to be about 15 to 20 miles away from the core of the city, citing county parks such as Lake Pleasant as great places for viewing the night sky. But dark skies aren’t necessary, as participants of the Aug. 6 event will discover while looking through telescopes set up under street lights.
“It shows that you can stargaze even from a light polluted area underneath the streetlights and there are fabulous things to see,” La Conte said. “Get out there and use your binoculars, use your telescopes and enjoy the night sky.”