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National Parks Offer Star-Studded Skies in 2010

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

“Thousands of people made that discovery last year, in part because 2009
was the International Year of Astronomy, 400 years after Galileo turned
his telescope to the heavens,” said National Park Service Director Jon
Jarvis. “This year we’ll introduce tens of thousands more visitors to
the night sky through programs at about 60 national parks.”

Astronomy Night in the Park at many national parks across the
country was a great success, said Chad Moore, manager of the National
Park Service Night Sky Program. “We suspect the people who rediscovered
the cosmos at one of our programs last year will return with friends and
family or will travel to a different national park to share their
experience of a starry sky, free of light pollution.”

Through programs like the Dark Skies Rangers Program, students of
just about any age can learn about the importance of dark skies,
experiment with activities that illustrate good and bad lighting, and
learn of light pollution’s effects on wildlife. A highlight of the
program is the citizen science project, GLOBE at Night, taking place
March 3-16, 2010. This program enlists the help of students to collect
data on the night sky conditions in their community and parks, and
contribute to a worldwide database on light pollution.

“You can check out the Dark Skies Rangers, GLOBE at night, and
other aspects of the International Year of Astronomy at
www.darkskiesawareness.org, which lives on after the 2009 celebration,”
Moore said. “The web site has tips on lighting, energy conservation,
posters, post cards, teacher packets, measuring the night sky, and
information on how light pollution affects animals.”

The NPS has developed a Junior Ranger Night Explorer
program,encouraging young park visitors to explore the dark side of
their national parks. “Kids can learn how to find the North Star, write
their own creative mythology about the constellations, track the phases
of the moon, and learn about stars and galaxies, and use all their
senses to explore the night environment at a national park,” said Angie
Richman, astronomy ranger with the Intermountain Regional Office. The
booklet was recently published and will be freely distributed in a
number of national parks in 2010.

Don’t forget to look for night sky activities on the web site of
the individual national parks you plan to visit this year. For example,
Acadia National Park in Maine held its first Night Sky Festival last
September, urged on by the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce and several
other community organizations. The next festival is planned for
September 9-12, 2010, with a variety of day and nighttime programs
taking place in the park and surrounding community. Further information
is available by contacting the park at 207-288-8703.

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah has been hosting stargazing
programs since 1969, and will hold its 10th annual Astronomy Festival
July 7-10, 2010. This four-day event also features daytime and nighttime
activities for all ages, and celebrates one of the last remaining
sanctuaries of dark skies. Visitors are encourage to plan ahead for this
event, more information is found at: www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/astrofest.htm.

To help meet the demand for night sky interpretive programs, the
National Park Service Night Sky Program last year recruited 19 volunteer
astronomers from around the country who were then placed in national
parks, started a loaner telescope collection, produced audio podcasts
and brochures, and supported the stellar night sky poster art by Dr.
Tyler Nordgren, an astronomer at the University of Redlands, California.

Nordgren spent a one-year sabbatical in national parks where he
collected his experiences into a book and drafted the series of 14
posters that harken to the Works Progress Administration posters of the

“Even though our sources of inspiration may change, the value of
national parks grows over time,” Director Jarvis said. “And as the
backyard starry sky is lost to urban America, people increasingly seek
it in their national parks.

“The night sky is every bit a part of the park as land, water,
wildlife and those famous sunrise and sunset scenes. It’s our
responsibility and our pleasure to preserve the night sky for this and
future generations.”

Visit online at http://www.nature.nps.gov/air/lightscapes.

From National Park Service

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