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Oak Flat Party Hosts Night's Biggest Stars

By Sue Bohannan Mann
For the Journal
    As dusk foreshadows a magical host of heavens, anyone who enjoys stargazing (and who doesn't?) is invited to come and enjoy this season's first Oak Flat Star Party.
    "My favorite place for setting up a telescope," says amateur astronomer Jay Harden, "is at Oak Flat from May to September."
    The Albuquerque Astronomy Club, 300 members strong, along with personnel and volunteers from the Sandia Ranger District, will hold a series of monthly Star Party nights in the Manzano Mountains beginning Saturday and continuing through September.
    There is no admission charge, and the show begins as constellations appear in the sky. Volunteers will be on hand with flashlights to guide visitors to the parking area after 6 p.m.
    Newcomers and veteran stargazers alike can take advantage of Oak Flats' distance from the lights of Albuquerque to view planets, stars and even faint clusters of constellations. Observers may be amazed to see how many neighbors our planet shares.
    Volunteer astronomers Jay Harden, Barry Spletzer and Brock Parker don't get much sleep in the dark of night. They bring their favorite telescopes to Oak Flat and set them up before sundown so observers can look deeply into the illumination of planets and faraway stars. Each astronomer fixes his telescope on different parts of the sky.
    Almost anyone, including children, can discern Saturn with the definite ring around her circumference, Harden says. He adds that viewers can also typically see the four moons that orbit our solar system's largest planet, Jupiter.
    If they like, visitors can come early and get acquainted with the astronomers. Visitors are also encouraged to bring along dinner, which they eat at picnic tables as they anticipate the night's unfolding drama.
   
Star Party nights in the Manzano Mountains
    GETTING THERE: Take I-40 to the Tijeras exit and turn south on to N.M. 337. From the first stoplight (on Old Route 66), continue south nine miles, and look for a sign on the left heralding the Oak Flat turnoff. Turn left and follow the road as it bends left again. Follow the signs to Oak Flat picnic area. Forest Service volunteers will be in the parking lot with flashlights to help guide you from there.
    WHEN: Saturday and June 12, July 10, Aug. 7, Sept. 4
    COST: Free
    CONTACT: Sandia Ranger Station, 281-3304