By Crystal Sands
In May of 2020, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine was designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. As one of only about a dozen such places in the world, this designation is a valuable one for our state, as it honors the importance of dark skies and our ability to view the stars as humans have done for thousands of years.
This year, in October, the Stars Over Katahdin event is set to be the first in-person celebration of the night sky since the national monument received this important designation. In 2020, due to COVID restrictions, the event was held online, but this October, the event is tentatively scheduled to take place in person. And, although the Stars Over Katahdin event is always a special experience, this year’s upcoming event will be even more exciting since this will be the first time the event will be in person since the Dark Skies designation.
Andy Bossie, Executive Director of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, says the Dark Skies designation is so important because it honors years of hard work by many volunteers who “saw an opportunity and wanted to make sure the area was preserved and promoted.” Bossie says the area is the only Dark Skies Sanctuary on the east coast and is only the second in our national park system. He points out, “80 percent of the nation can’t see the Milky Way,” so having a Dark Skies Sanctuary here in Maine gives both Mainers and visitors a unique opportunity to experience the stars in a powerful way.
There is much excitement about this year’s Stars Over Katahdin event. The event happens on a Saturday in October (October 9, 2021 this year) and is based on the lunar cycle. Bossie explains that the event has to take place when the moon is not bright, such as near a new moon, because darkness is so important to seeing the stars in all of their glory.
Leading up to the event, in early fall, volunteers engage in youth education programs in local school districts. An inflatable planetarium is used in schools to incorporate astronomy education into the curriculum.
The Stars Over Katahdin event itself begins during the day on October 9 with hiking, biking and paddling around the national monument area. As the sun begins to set, everyone gathers for a bonfire, hotdogs and roasted marshmallows. Around the bonfire, volunteer astronomers tell stories and share information about the stars and constellations.
Once the sun sets and the sky is dark, a true celebration of the stars begins. Bossie says it takes about half an hour for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Using only red lights, everyone at the event takes a small walk and makes their way to an overlook. There, powerful telescopes are available for viewing the moon and planets. Experts use laser beams to point to constellations, and shooting stars are often seen, adding to the unique experience this event offers.
Bossie says the main focus of the Stars Over Katahdin event is to help people “understand and appreciate the night sky.” The event is an excellent opportunity for both children and adults to enjoy nature, experience the stars and become educated about the importance of places like Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
For those interested in camping in or near the park, Bossie says it’s important to make reservations well in advance of the event. Because the event takes place in October, when it is also leaf season here in Maine, the camping sites fill up quickly. For more information about this year’s event, you can visit the Stars Over Katahdin site at www.friendsofkww.org/stars.
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