Don Francis and his 8-year-old daughter, Lily Francis, made the trek from Woodstock, Illinois, to visit the Lake Geneva waterfront and learn about the stars and other celestial objects.
The father-and-daughter duo were among several people June 27 at the Riviera for a star-gazing party hosted by a group formerly associated with the shuttered Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay.
The “star party” filled the Riviera ballroom with telescope and binocular observations, a portable planetarium, informational booths and other science-related activities.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Francis said. “We’re waiting to go in the planetarium. Then we will come back out here and do some crafts and see all the tables and see all the neat stuff.”
The events, which will continue later this summer, are organized by a group calling itself Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM.
Members of the group previously were involved in holding star-gazing parties at Yerkes Observatory. But when the University of Chicago closed Yerkes last year, the events relocated to Lake Geneva’s famed Riviera building.
“We’re the safe keepers of these programs,” said Deb Kaelbli, a representaitve of the Geneva Lake Astrophysics group.
Although not quite as large and sophisticated as Yerkes, the Riviera gives star-gazers a similar perspective, looking out over Geneva Lake from a historic lakefront landmark.
As the star parties shift from Williams Bay to Lake Geneva, organizers have received a $3,800 grant from the Lake Geneva Tourism Commission to promote the events.
Kaelbli said the purpose remain the same — to make learning fun for those interesting in learning about the cosmos.
With a portable planetarium, participants can learn about black holes, the Milky Way and different constellations.
“We have a fantastic show in there,” Kaelbli said.
The cost of admission is $10 per person or $28 for a family pass in advance, $12 per person or $32 per family at the door.
Because of overcast skies, the June 27 event did not include all outdoor activities.
“If the skies were beautiful, we would’ve had a ginormous, yellow telescope along with some smaller telescopes around the building,” Kaelbli said. “So we would be viewing the stars and the cosmos, basically.”
Still, Pete Delalis of Elgin, Illinois, enjoyed peering through telescopes and binoculars that were available indoors at the Riviera.
“As a retired law enforcement officer, I always used binoculars to look at the bad guys, not the astronomy aspect of things,” Delalis said. “So when I used these binoculars, it was like day and night.”
Presenters likewise applauded the Riviera’s new location for the events.
Don Skalla, a member of the Geneva Dark Sky Initiative, was educating people about light pollution during the star party.
Skalla said his group is working with Lake Geneva city officials to reduce the amount of light pollution in the city, so residents can have a better view of the stars and other nighttime spectacles.
“We’re trying to educate and promote what’s good lighting and what’s bad lighting,” he said, “and getting people aware of the beauty of the night sky.”
Visitor Diane Lee found the star party informative, and she applauded organizers for putting it together.
“I think it’s great that GLAS is working with the community to educate the public on astrophysics,” she said. “It’s very educational.”
Gabriel Ochoa of Laka Villa, Illinois, attended as a volunteer but participated in some activities, too.
“I love the education of it, the outreach, and just getting people engaged,” he said.
The former base at Yerkes Observatory was not forgotten, either.
Volunteer Richard Huttas set up an informational booth to talk about the history of Yerkes Observatory. Huttas said he had hoped to see a bigger crowd at the Riviera.
“I was a little disappointed,” he said. “I was hoping for more, but it was good just the same.”