MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, Maine — Rocky cliffs, mountain views, sea breezes, fir forests and the smell and spray of ocean brine are among the sights and sensations visitors and residents seek out when they venture toward the shore of eastern Maine.
There is one other sight that a group of local organizations also wants to bring to their attention. It is a sight that has not always been associated with Maine — as moose, blueberries and lobster are — but it is becoming increasingly scarce in other parts of the country.
In many parts of Maine, the night sky and stars are as brilliant as they used to be everywhere, before cities began using electric lights at night to illuminate their streets and properties. The Acadia Night Sky Festival was created last year to help draw attention to preserving and promoting the visibility of the night sky.
The second such festival is scheduled on MDI this week, Sept. 9-13. Events will be held at several locations on the island, including Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Acadia National Park.
Organizers emphasize that the festival will be held rain or shine. But that doesn’t stop them for hoping for clear nighttime skies later this week and this weekend.
“Things right now are really looking best for Saturday night,” Peter Lord, president of the Island Astronomy Institute, said Tuesday. The institute is one of the festival’s primary organizers, along with Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Friends of Acadia and College of the Atlantic.
Lord said the weather forecast, though obviously not guaranteed, bodes well for the star-viewing event planned from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
“The top of Cadillac is the big event,” Lord said. “That is the thing people really went for last year.”
Lord estimated that 500 people ascended Cadillac last year to look at the stars. He said about a dozen telescopes have been lined up this year for the summit-viewing event.
Heather Jones, director of events for the Bar Harbor Chamber, said Tuesday that 2,500 people attended the festival in 2009, the first year it was held. She said that, by some estimates, two-thirds of adult Americans never have seen the Milky Way. Educating festival attendees about astronomy is a big component of the festival, she said.
“It’s looking good,” Jones said about the projected festival weather. “We might have showers on some days or afternoons.”
A new event planned for this year’s festival is solar viewing, according to Lord. He said solar surface activity has picked up recently, so there is the chance to see solar flares on the sun’s surface.
“With really sophisticated equipment, it’s safe to look at the sun,” Lord said. “That’s our star.”
Stargazing events also are scheduled at Sand Beach on Thursday night and at Seawall on Sunday. There will be a discussion panel session Thursday evening at COA on efforts to mitigate light pollution, and a scientific presentation at noon Friday at The Jackson Laboratory about how sunlight affects life on Earth. On Friday night, there will be an evening picnic on the Village Green in Bar Harbor, and at 7 p.m., a post-picnic screening on the green of the film “E.T.”
Other scheduled festival events include a nighttime boat cruise, a session for children at the Gilley Museum on owl ecology, a presentation on the Wabanaki perspective on the night sky and a singalong. Two photography workshops scheduled for the festival already are sold out. The festival ends with a sunrise viewing Monday morning on Cadillac.
Jones said that, to help raise funds for the festival, there will be a silent auction on 10 signed prints of photos taken during last year’s festival by artist and astronomer Tyler Nordgren. The prints can be viewed online at www.nightskyfestival.org or at the Chamber’s downtown Bar Harbor office at the corner of Main and Cottage streets. Bidding ends at 5 p.m. Sunday.
A complete schedule of events may be found on the festival website.