No doubt, Tucson is a stargazer’s mecca.
But, as visitors to the Pima Community College Observatory learned Saturday, nighttime isn’t the only right time to set up the telescope.
Astronomy magazine hosted its second annual all-day Public Star Party, which started at 10 a.m. with telescopes trained on the sun. Filters on the telescopes allowed visitors to get a look at the massive star without damaging their eyes.
Solar prominences, or bright spots on the surface of the sun, and flares, which look like waves bursting into the space around the sun, were visible through a telescope set up by amateur astronomer Seth Gonzalez.
As Gonzalez made adjustments to his telescope for each new visitor, he rattled off impressive facts. Solar flares can shoot 150,000 to 300,000 miles away from the surface of the sun, he said. And about 1.3 million objects the size of the Earth can fit in the sun.
“The sun is always changing,” he said. “It never stays the same from one minute to the other.”
Gonzalez was a boy when he became fascinated with astronomy.
“What really got me started in astronomy was a meteor shower when I was 6 years old. I walked outside and saw all these stars falling,” he said.
Now, he says, he likes to share his hobby.
“I like to show people the ‘wow factor’ of astronomy. It’s really beautiful,” Gonzalez said.
Julia Beck, 11, was ready to be wowed. She attended the event with her father, Joe. She took a good, long look at the sun through the telescope and found it interesting, but even the sun couldn’t compare to her favorite feature of space.
“In school I’m learning about the solar system,” Julia said. “I like Pluto, but I really like black holes. They can suck everything into them.”
Bill Nuñez has had a lifelong interest in astronomy. He drove to Tucson from his home in Greenlee County to attend the star party and “be around people that speak the same language I do.”
“It’s great to be around people who know more than you know and be able to share what you know with them,” Nuñez said.