Stargazing set for Saturday night on Paynes Prairie

Published: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.

It's described as stunning, beautiful and pitch black.

Hickory Ranch at Paynes Prairie is one of the darkest locations in Alachua County. Normally, it's closed to the public, but once a year it is opened for the Friends of Paynes Prairie's biggest fundraiser: Stargazing at Paynes Prairie, which is set for tonight from 6:30 to 9.

The Friends collaborate with the Alachua Astronomy Club to put on a family-friendly evening of stargazing, campfires, s'mores, hot chocolate and hayrides.

According to Amber Roux, Paynes Prairie's park services specialist, about 750 people attended the event last year. Tonight they would like to see 800 come out.

Roux says the most asked question at the prairie is, "When will the next stargazing event be?"

Admission is $5 per person. Kids ages 6 and under get in free, as do Friends of Paynes Prairie card-holding members.

Luminaries will guide you to different telescopes provided by the Alachua Astronomy Club. The telescopes will be focused on different spectacles in outer space, and volunteers have facts and stories for each one.

Ivo Rabell, Alachua Astronomy Club treasurer and outreach coordinator, says four telescopes are guaranteed to be at the event, but he is hoping at least seven make it.

Star clusters, Jupiter and its moons as well as the multiple-star system Castor are just a few images that will be in focus in the telescopes.

Though this event isn't the astronomy club's largest event, "it's probably the darkest area in Gainesville that we show stars," Rabell said.

Dawn and Tony Ayers live in Gainesville with their daughters Molly, 11, and Lila, 6, and they go stargazing at this event every year.

"I've never seen more stars in Gainesville than that night," Tony Ayers recalled.

"It is in our top three favorite events of the year in Gainesville," Dawn Ayers said.

"I loved it so much I told my science teacher to bring her telescope," Molly said.

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