Area residents and visitors are invited to a special Star Party fundraiser at the Kane County Water Conservancy Building, 725 E. Kaneplex Drive in Kanab, Utah on Friday, December 7.

Activities will begin in the large conference room at 7 p.m. with a multimedia presentation by retired professional astronomer Von Del Chamberlain detailing the astonishing wonders of the December sky. Chamberlain will be joined by a team of local residents working to create a future space observatory for public use in Kanab. 

The Southern Utah Space Foundation will provide astronomers with telescopes and laser pointers for public viewing of planets, constellations and deep sky objects such as galaxies and nebulae. Free donuts and hot chocolate will be on hand, along with other tasty treats. The indoor event will take place regardless of weather conditions. But look for clear skies and be sure to bring the youngsters to see through the telescopes, beginning at 8 p.m.

How cool would it be if a facility could be created in Kanab for students, residents and visitors to learn about the wonders of outer space and to see what’s really out there? Where a large and powerful telescope linked to a big screen could display images of distant star clusters and galaxies; where amateur and professional astronomers could do cosmological research and deep sky photography; where children and adults could view the planets up close and personal and enjoy stories of the constellations in a comfortable outdoor amphitheater, specially designed for stargazing!

It’s an ambitious idea that a group of Kanab residents aims to bring to fruition: to design and raise funds to build and operate an astronomical observatory for public and educational use that also has substantial research capabilities attractive to professional and retired astronomers.

“To witness the infinity, eternity and immortality of the physical universe is incredibly inspiring,” said Rich Csenge, coordinator for the project.

Local architect Bob Kaczowka is on the team with retired professional astronomer and author Von Del Chamberlain, Jackson Flat Reservoir facilities manager Kelly Brown and former math and science educator Paul Barron. “We are inviting folks with talents of all kinds to join our core team and bring their capacities to help make the project successful,” said Csenge.

The Southern Utah Space Foundation, based in Cedar City, Utah, is already engaged and offering its support. The foundation’s Director, Lee Ricci, is helping the Kanab group launch a multi-year fundraising campaign beginning with this event; the first of a series of star parties hosted by the Kane County Water Conservancy District, where the concept will be introduced.

“Up on the Colorado Plateau and away from major metropolitan areas in Utah and Arizona where light pollution makes viewing the stars quite challenging, the relative remoteness of Kanab is a great location for a public observatory,” said Lee.

And just as important, Kanab is the largest of only three rural communities to date in the state of Utah that have enacted a night sky friendly outdoor lighting ordinance to protect the outstanding clarity of the southern Utah night sky.

With its full range of visitor services including B&Bs, hotels and restaurants, and its close proximity to federally-managed parks, forests, monuments and public lands, Kanab offers outstanding prospects as a home base for astro-tourists.

Now in early planning stages, the vision is to design and construct a public facility serving residents, students and visitors to Kanab who value the magnificent planets, stars and deep space objects visible in the night skies over southern Utah. Several sites on which to locate the facility are under consideration. 

The “Stellar Vista Observatory” would include a building housing a primary research telescope, plus a range of portable scopes, classroom with digital connectivity to the primary telescope, outdoor amphitheater for guided constellation viewing, bathrooms, parking and site improvements. 

“What an honor to be the first to donate!” said Stacy Grosz, co-owner, with her husband Wayne, of North Star Technical Service, a security systems company based in Kanab. With an initial fundraising goal of $3,000, the group intends to secure architectural design, site planning and other components of a formal project proposal.

The project time horizon is to pursue design, engineering and fundraising in 2019/20, and commence construction in 2021. 

Contributions to the Stellar Vista Observatory Project from folks attending this December 7 Star Party should be made out to the Southern Utah Space Foundation. Hope to see you there!