The hot, dog days of summer might be getting you down, but they're one of the coolest times of the year to look up — literally.

Taking advantage of star-spangled, dark skies and mostly clear weather forecasts over the next 10 days, local astronomy clubs are offering free telescopic tours of the night sky. And from Aug. 1 to Aug. 3, the rockets' red glare will be on display at the Salt Flats.

This Saturday, Salt Lake Astronomical Society will hold a star party at their Stansbury Park Observatory. A 30-minute orientation begins at dusk, with star viewing commencing as objects appear in the darkening sky.

Late afternoon and evening thunderstorms can sometimes ruin a star party, so this and other star parties are on a "weather permitting" basis. Check the group's Web site, slas.us, prior to the event to see if the clouds are cooperating.

A more predictable force of the planet — gravity — will be showcased as rocket builders and enthusiasts from the Intermountain West attempt to defy its pull for a few minutes at the 13th annual Utah Rocket Club Hellfire High Power launch.

Rockets, called "bad boys" by organizers, are models that lift-off with earth-shaking roars, "spewing tails of fire with a blast of heat you can feel — even from a safe distance."

Between launches, rockets, which can be as long as 18 and weigh 100 pounds or more, will be on display, allowing spectators a close-up inspection of the air-bushed decorated exteriors that builders believe make them not just rockets, but full-blast works of art almost too pretty to set off.

Spectators should be advised, don't say "set off" if asking a builder about the particulars of a launch. The phrase implies that the rocket is just some kind of oversized firework that is going to go up and explode into a burst of colors like on the 4th of July. Don't say explode, either. Or the word detonation. If a rocket appears to do any of those things, the prudent question to ask the builder assessing the remains is: "So what do you believe were factors contributing this unanticipated spontaneous event?"

Answering that exact question is how rocket scientists got man to the moon and how the shuttle gets back to earth.

Gravity may be an abiding condition, but launches, which are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. daily, are subject to weather and rain delay. Spectators should also be advised that in the interest of safety, they will not be allowed in any of the rocket prep areas July 31, and viewing Aug. 1 to 3 follows very strict guidelines that organizers emphasize will be strictly enforced.

Also be advised that the Bonneville Salt Falts is no picnic in the park: the sunlight is hot and most late summer days glares brighter than the back end of 14 rockets combined. Also, if you're someone who requires more than a port-a-potty for relief, the event might not be your kind of outing.

Minimum SPF 15 sunblock is recommended, along with at least one quart of water per hour, snacks, sunglasses, a hat or other portable shade, binoculars and a chair.

Admission is free and entrance is accessible to those with disabilities. Take Exit 4 on I-80 and follow the signs. For more information, visit www.uroc.org.

On Aug. 23, the Stansbury Park Observatory Complex will let you make a day of scheduled Star Party that begins with an informal golf tournament, a swap meet, a Star-B-Q and a showing of a classic science fiction movie yet to be determined but will likely be "The Day the Earth Stood Still" organizers say, while astronomers check out the night sky.

For more information, contact Rodger Fry at [email protected].


E-mail: [email protected]