Two stargazing festivals to include events on MDI

Posted Sept. 02, 2011, at 6:35 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — At the end of this month, stargazers who want to get a good look at the night sky and learn about what kind of effect it has had on our world will have two Maine festivals from which to choose.

Maine is considered one of the few places along the East Coast where the night sky is not obscured by light pollution caused by urban development.

One of the festivals, the Acadia Night Sky Festival, will be held for the third consecutive year on Mount Desert Island. The other, the inaugural Maine Starlight Festival, has events scheduled on MDI but also at the University of Maine in Orono, University of Southern Maine in Portland, and other locations in Bangor, Calais, Kennebunk and Lincolnville, among other places.

The Maine Starlight Festival, which runs from Sept. 23 through Oct. 2, is being presented by the Island Astronomy Institute, which was one of the co-founders of the Acadia Night Sky Festival. The Acadia festival is being held from Sept. 22 through sunrise on Sept. 26.

Peter Lord, president of Island Astronomy Institute, said Thursday that after being involved with the Acadia Night Sky Festival for two years, he wanted to focus more on a statewide effort that would include local astronomy clubs and events on their own turf. He said his nonprofit organization and others like it throughout the state are committing to educating the public about protecting the night sky from light pollution.

“It allows us to focus on our charitable mission,” Lord said. “Ultimately, what we have to do is protect the night sky statewide.”

The Acadia festival, according to organizers of that event, is geared toward raising public awareness about the night sky over the national park, most of which is located on MDI. The park has added the night sky over its lands as one of the resources that should be protected and maintained in their natural state.

The Acadia festival, organized by the local Chamber of Commerce and Acadia National Park, is scheduled to start on Thursday, Sept. 22. The first night of the four-day event will feature a 7 p.m. lecture at MDI High School about Hubble Space Telescope images, a 7:30 p.m. nighttime boat cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co., and stargazing at Sand Beach at 8 p.m. Other events such as photography workshops, scientific lectures, piano concerts, and other star and solar viewing events will be held at The Jackson Laboratory, Schoodic Education and Research Center in Winter Harbor, College of the Atlantic and Jesup Memorial Library, among other locations.

Other organizations participating in or contributing to the Acadia festival include Friends of Acadia, Mount Desert Chamber of Commerce, Sylvania and The Bluenose Inn. A full listing of Acadia Night Sky Festival events can be found online at www.acadianightskyfestival.com.

Lauren Rupp, events coordinator for the local Chamber, said in a prepared statement that the skies over national parks mostly remain unobscured by light pollution and can inspire a sense of awe in observers.

“We are serious about preserving our night sky, and what better way to do it than by bringing fun and attention to our treasure, all the while educating the public,” Rupp said. “Anyone observing Acadia’s Night Sky awash in natural brilliance will understand why.”

According to Lord, the Maine Starlight Festival will include more than 50 events at nearly 30 locations throughout the state, including a screening of the documentary film “City Dark” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at The Grand. The festival will include planetarium shows at UMaine campuses, expert speakers and other events.

Lord encouraged people to frequently check the festival website, www.starlightfestival.org. He said the week-long festival likely will have some events affected by the weather and that will be rescheduled for other days.

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