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Night Sky Festivals: Acadia And Theodore Roosevelt National Parks


With fall quickly approaching, days are getting shorter, and that helps greatly when you stage a night sky festival. After all, who wants to wait until after 9 p.m. to start star gazing?

There are at least two night sky festivals for you to choose from in the National Park System later this month: the 5th Annual Acadia Night Sky Festival on Mount Desert Island, Maine, home to Acadia National Park, and the first Dakota Nights: An Astronomy Festival, to be held in Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit and nearby Medora, North Dakota. 

Acadia Night Sky Festival

This festival is scheduled during the waning moon of September, from September 26th through sunrise on the 30th. MDI residents and visitors alike will come together to help celebrate and enjoy the darkest night skies on the eastern seaboard, through education, science, and art.

The Acadia Night Sky Festival will be spread out across Mount Desert Island and in the surrounding gateway communities to Acadia National Park. Lectures, workshops, art exhibits, and science related programs are on the agenda. There will be opportunities for stargazing from within the park itself throughout the festival during the nightly star parties, as well as opportunities to hear nationally renowned speakers, including local astronomers, NASA astronauts, and this year’s keynote presenter, Dr. Alex Filippenko, part of the team that won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Both indoor and outdoor events are planned, with highlights including, a night sky boat cruise, a chance to watch Planetarium presentation, an outdoor movie under the stars, and night sky photography workshops led by local naturalist and photographer, Bob Thayer.

While many of the events are free and open to the public, some do require advance registration or a fee. A complete list of events can be found at the festival’s website.

It was back in 1999 that a team of National Park Service scientists started documenting the status of night skies. Their findings ignited a plan to preserve this often overlooked yet precious natural resource. As with those over Acadia, the skies over many national parks remain unobstructed by the light pollution coming from dense population centers, still mesmerizing, still creating a sense of awe in observers.

On clear nights, countless points of light swirl above Mount Desert Island, a phenomenon known as the Milky Way--Earth’s own galaxy, a sight that nearly two-thirds of the entire population of the Eastern Seaboard never has the chance to see! The festival offers an opportunity for many to experience the glory of a night sky for the first time.

The Acadia Night Sky Festival is a community celebration to promote the protection and enjoyment of Downeast & Acadia’s stellar night sky as a valuable natural resource through education, science and the arts.

Dakota Nights: An Astronomy Festival

Theodore Roosevelt National Park invites curious minds of all ages to spend a crisp autumn weekend exploring the universe around us. Astronomers, park rangers, historians, and explorers of all kinds will gather for the first Dakota Nights: An Astronomy Festival that runs Friday, September 27, through Sunday, September 29.

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“Dark skies are a rapidly vanishing resource in the United States,” said Theodore Roosevelt Superintendent Valerie Naylor. “Many people don’t have the opportunity to see stars because of light pollution from cities and other development. We are very excited to bring together world-class astronomers, educators, and scientists for this special event.”

Special guest speakers include American Indian historian Dakota Goodhouse, former astronaut and North Dakota native Rick Hieb, and Kevin “The Dark-Ranger” Poe from Bryce Canyon National Park.

Friday and Saturday evenings will be spent stargazing with 10 telescopes while astronomers and park rangers offer accompanying “Constellation Tours.” Rocket building and launching will take place at Chimney Park in Medora on both Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. Model rockets costing between $10 and $30 will be available for purchase.

Dickinson State University’s “Discovery Dome,” with a full slate of events, will be at the DeMores School in Medora. Solar System Hikes round out the full weekend schedule.

There is no charge to attend the festival and admission to Theodore Roosevelt National Park will be waived on Saturday, September 28, in celebration of National Public Lands Day.

For more information and the full Dakota Nights schedule, please visit the festival website.

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