MDI-area groups planning night sky festival

Posted March 26, 2009, at 12:40 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:45 a.m.

It may not be Hollywood, but on Mount Desert Island residents and visitors usually notice when the stars come out.

And to celebrate, some area officials are thinking about rolling out the red carpet.

Portions of eastern and northern Maine are among the few places left in the eastern United States where the night sky remains mostly unobscured by street lamps, porch lights and powerful outdoor halogen and sodium vapor bulbs.

To help preserve the visibility of the night sky, the town of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park each have taken steps to limit the amount of their light pollution. Other MDI towns are considering doing the same.

To build on these protections and to draw attention to the night-sky resource, some area officials are planning a night sky festival to take place on MDI in late September.

“It is one of Acadia’s greatest resources,” Stephanie Clement, conservation director of the advocacy group Friends of Acadia, said Sunday of the region’s night sky.

Peter Lord, executive director of the Island Astronomy Institute on MDI, said the Acadia Night Sky Festival is being planned for Sept. 17-21, during a weekend when there will be a new moon.

He said the idea behind the festival is to include scientific star-gazing sessions, but also other themed events that are not dependent on a clear night sky. One idea is to invite a symphony orchestra to perform in Bar Harbor, he said, while another proposal is to stage a parade.

“We want to have it be a celebration,” Lord said. “We don’t want this to be special-interest focused. This is intended to appeal broadly and popularly.”

Besides running his nonprofit organization, Lord has been helping officials at Acadia measure the amount of nighttime light in the park so that it can be documented and tracked. The park has installed some night-sky-friendly lighting at its facilities, as has The Jackson Laboratory, a 1,300-employee mouse and disease research institution that abuts Acadia.

The concept of limiting light has many potential benefits, according to night sky advocates.

Not only does it keep the stars visible, but it reduces energy costs by focusing light only where it may be needed and it reduces glare for passing motorists. And if Maine can protect the visibility of its night sky, it could be an added draw for tourists who might only see only a few of the brightest stars in their hometowns.

A lot of planning for the festival remains to be done, Lord said. Chamber of Commerce groups on MDI have been approached and have expressed initial support, he said, but which organizations will be actively involved in the festival has not yet been determined. He said organizers are hoping to find some sponsors as well.

Clement said the festival likely will include lectures, star-gazing walks in the park and maybe night sky cruises on whale-watching boats. She said she also hopes there will be a demonstration of different types of lighting fixtures and how they affect night sky visibility.

One thing Lord and Clement said they hope does not happen the weekend of the planned festival is bad weather. By planning for a variety of programming, they said, they want to make sure people come out for the festival, even if the stars don’t.

“We recognize that with fog and wind and rain, you can never predict the weather,” Clement said.

btrotter@bangordailynews.net

460-6318

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