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STAR PARTY WOWS VIEWERS WITH CRISP VIEWS OF COSMOS

The air was chilly and the larger telescope developed a mechanical problem, but the view of the stars Saturday night was heavenly.

The occasion was a star party that drew about 80 fans of the cosmos to the Brian Head Hotel parking lot. Originally, they were to shuttle to the base of Brian Head Peak, where no lights would interfere with the view, but at the last minute it was held in the parking lot instead.Although the location was less than ideal, the lights weren't bright enough to dim out the sweep of the Milky Way, the cross formed by the Cygnus constellation, the great W of Andromeda and many other night wonders.

Possibly that was because a tour bus was stuck at the entrance to an indoor parking garage under one of hotel buildings. For hours, while workers struggled to jack up the wheels and stick boards beneath the tires, the bus blocked vehicles from leaving the hotel.

During a slide show before the outdoor session, Patrick Wiggins of the Hansen Planetarium showed views from the Hubble Space Telescope, both before its corrective optics were installed this year and afterward. A crisp view of a galaxy wrung a gasp from the audience.

Afterwards, as stargazers sipped hot chocolate and coffee provided by the hotel, Wiggins showed off Saturn. The planet is tilted more than usual relative to Earth, with the rings looking thinner.

"You could see the space between the planet and the rings, so it wasn't just a side-on view," said one viewer. The rings were tilted so that they showed both above and below the planet's globe, she said.

Wiggins said that when the rings are edge-on, they will be invisible from Earth. Although they are many thousands of miles across, they are only as thick as a city block is long.

Pointing with a powerful flashlight, Wiggins helped the crowd recognize constellations. The beam lit dust in the air and looked like a pointer stretching toward the stars.

The star party cost $5 each and was sponsored by Brian Head Resort.