SCOUT KEY, Florida Keys — As many as 600 amateur and professional astronomers from around the world are to gather in the Lower Florida Keys Monday through Saturday, Feb. 20-26, attracted by the chance for 180-degree viewing of the Southern Cross and other constellations during the 28th annual Winter Star Party.

The event’s primary draw for astronomers is the large number of southern constellations, comets, stars and other celestial objects that are visible from the Florida Keys — virtually the only place in the continental United States where they can be seen. The Keys’ southern location and relative absence of large-scale artificial lighting at night provide optimal viewing conditions.

The star party is to take place at Camp Wesumkee, a Girl Scout camp at mile marker 34.5 off U.S. Highway 1 on Scout Key, formerly known as West Summerland Key.

The gathering is hosted by Miami’s Southern Cross Astronomical Society. Founded in 1922, the SCAS is one of the oldest amateur astronomical societies in the Western Hemisphere.

As well as nightly stargazing opportunities, Winter Star Party participants can attend lectures and presentations by nationally recognized astronomers and guest speakers, shop for astronomy equipment from on-site vendors, participate in photo contests, compete for prizes and exchange information with fellow astronomy aficionados. Special camp activities are arranged for young astronomers.

Featured speakers include award-winning author and astronomer Stephen James O’Meara, whose books include the Deep-Sky Companion series, astronomer and telescope maker Mike Lockwood, astro-photographer and event director Tim Khan, solar system research and planetary photography specialist Dr. Donald C. Parker and star party founder Tippy D’Auria, a widely renowned planetary astronomer and astro-photographer.

The Winter Star Party is open to the public as well as to SCAS members, though registration is required prior to the event. Tickets are not available for sale at the gate.

Event information and registration: www.scas.org

Lower Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/lowerkeys or 1-800-872-3722

Social: facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywesttwitter.com/thefloridakeysYouTube.com/FloridaKeysTV

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