While big-city lights don’t exactly provide the prime backdrop for stargazing, Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas member Dick Gentry has a few favorite spots. The group has already picked some sites for its new, free star parties.
“Often, a star party is more about meeting the people and showing them what can be seen from a location than it is about the quality of the observing,” Gentry says.
At Frisco Commons Park, you can observe things with the naked eye, while other, more urban sites require the use telescopes, which TAS sets up.
“We also conduct star parties at Klyde Warren Park, a location in the center of the light dome, where we have served crowds of 6,000 in an evening," Gentry says.
The Mesquite ISD Planetarium, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and Frontiers of Flight Museum will host special events for Monday's solar eclipse. Past TAS president Max Corneau also will lead a program at Rockwall County Library.
Interested in observing what’s up year round? Visit texasastro.org for dates and times of TAS' events and see our list of nearby stargazing locations.
Hubbard City Lakes Park
State Highway 31, Hubbard
The Hubbard City Lakes Star Party is one of three monthly events from the Central Texas Astronomical Society.
“We have a lot of people who call from Dallas and Fort Worth,” says CTAS president Aubrey Brickhouse, adding that the events are free and open to the public. Telescopes are on hand, so people don’t need to bring anything, he says, but a red light might be useful for way making.
The group can urn off the lights in the park, making it a great place to stargaze, Brickhouse says, and “it gets you away from the Metroplex so that you have a fairly dark sky.”
Most of those who attend the parties are interested in astronomy and like to get out of town, Brickhouse says. Hubbard is about an hour and 20 minutes south of Dallas.
In addition to star parties, the CTAS, founded by Michael Green, is also involved in mentoring, training and astronomical research.
“It’s a limited career field,” Brickhouse says, “and if you become a professional astronomer, you get to work at night — all night long.”
Frisco Commons Park
8000 McKinney Road, Frisco
Weather permitting, TAS hosts monthly star parties at Frisco Commons Park. Known as Frisco Starfest, the events take place the second Saturday of each month and give visitors opportunities to observe the stars, planets and other wonders of the universe.
“Frisco Commons is a large, open, public space where a wide cross section of the local community can be found,” Gentry says. “That we continue to host hundreds of guests each month indicates to us that Frisco Commons is a good location for our star parties.”
Frisco Commons is one of four of the group's monthly star parties. Other locations are Spring Park in Garland, Shores Park in Rockwall, and J.W. Williams Park in Cedar Hill, which, according to the Night Sky Network, has “a reduced amount of light pollution on the southern horizons.”
For more information, visit texasastro.org or call 214-800-6000.
Tandy Hills Natural Area
3400 View St., Fort Worth
Members of the Fort Worth Astronomical Society share their expertise during free star parties the second Saturday of each month at the Tandy Hills Natural Area. The parties, generally February through November, start at dark-thirty on this 160-acre remnant of native prairie located about five minutes from downtown Fort Worth.
FWAS president Si Simonson says members of the group usually arrive about an hour before sunset, and the parties last until about 11 p.m. Visitors can use club members’ telescopes or bring their own.
Simonson says the group previously skywatched in the parking lot of the Noble Planetarium but moved to the Tandy Hills Natural Area because there are fewer lights and less traffic. “It’s probably one of the darkest areas in the DFW area,” he says.
The fact that area, which contains more than 600 species of native plants, “has never been plowed or developed and survived into the 21st century in relatively pristine condition is remarkable,” according to the nature reserve’s website.
1600 Gendy St., Fort Worth
The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History’s Noble Planetarium, which provides an interactive way to learn about the stars and constellations, will also host a lineup of special events during the solar eclipse Monday, Aug. 21.
“This upcoming eclipse has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse because it will be visible in totality only from the United States,” the museum’s website says.
Simonson says the majority of FWAS members will be headed north to view the eclipse, but some will help at the panetarium. Telescope viewing will be from 11 to 11:30 a.m. and from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. From 11:40 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.m Morgan Rehnberg, director of scientific presentation, will talk about the eclipse during a livestream of the event inside the Omni Theater.
In addition, the Noble Planetarium will display the Countdown to Totality every 20 minutes from 10 to 11 a.m. and from and 1 to 5 p.m., and hands-on, eclipse-themed activities will take place from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Innovation Studios.
Rafes Urban Astronomy Center
2350 Tom Cole Road, Denton
For $5, skywatchers can attend a star party the first Saturday of each month at the University of North Texas in Denton. Sky Theater/Star Party combos are available for $9, and there are discounts for students, children, UNT employees and senior citizens.
The stars represent wonders, UNT student and employee Mary Crudu says.
“We cannot physically reach them, yet they’re there,” she says. “They come out each night and brighten up our dark sky. I think that, as humans, we tend to always strive to know the where, what or when, and this is one of those things where we can only study and admire from afar.”
Cooper Lake State Park
1690 FM3505, Sulphur Springs
While there is no set skywatching schedule at Cooper Lake State Park, interpretive ranger Katelyn Juenger says she tries to host a star party there each month, usually during the first or last quarter of the moon so “the moonlight isn’t overpowering the stars.”
Juenger says the events are a great summertime activity since they sidestep the higher daytime temperatures, and “everybody can kind of connect to sky, the night sky and the stars.”
The parties begin a few minutes after sunset and are free. There is a $5 park entrance fee for those ages 13 and older. The park, about an hour and a half from Dallas, is just far enough from the big-city lights that the night sky is not affected too much, Juenger says.
“We’re one of the places where the sky gets dark enough you can see a lot of things like the Milky Way even in the summertime,” she says.
Visitors can participate in activities during an eclipse watch party Monday, Aug. 21. Juenger says there will be some solar eclipse glasses on hand.
Lake Mineral Wells State Park
100 Park Road 71, Mineral Wells
Lake Mineral Wells is home to the North Texas Star Party, an annual event that, in good weather, usually attracts several hundred people.
“The location is good because it is close enough to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to attract many visitors but far enough away to evade the city light pollution,” says David Owens, a park ranger.
The event, a partnership between Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Michael Hibbs, an associate professor at Tarleton State University, has been at Lake Mineral Wells since 2000 after relocating from Cleburne State Park, Owens says.
A star party is on the books for Saturday, Aug. 19. The park hosts other skywatching events year round, depending on the weather. Owens says the activities usually take place Fridays and are “determined by the quality of the night sky observations on a certain night and the weather.”
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The events are free with paid park admission or an annual state park pass. Park admission is $7 for adults and free for children ages 12 and younger.
700 Planetarium Place, Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s domed planetarium will screen "Astronomy 101: Solar Eclipses" at noon Monday, Aug. 21. Observation of the eclipse and other eclipse-themed activities will take place after the show.
Planetarium director Levent Gurdemir says the eclipse will begin shortly before noon, but the maximum effect will happen around 1 p.m. Special glasses can be purchased for $2.50 at the gift shop, and the planetarium's YouTube channel will livestream the event.
The activities are free and will last until 2:30 p.m. Planetarium show tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for students, seniors and children.