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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore) has long been a popular destination for its natural resources, rich cultural history and daytime recreational activities. It also offers visitors an extraordinary opportunity once the sun has set. Located far from sources of urban light pollution, the National Lakeshore allows for an unhindered view of the night sky and offers opportunities for visitors to gaze at the visible universe as it was witnessed in times long past. In 2017, the National Lakeshore will be hosting a series of monthly astronomy programs that run from April through October. Park rangers and members of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society (GTAS) will help you unravel some of the mysteries of the night sky as well as discover more about the daytime sky. The first Star Party will be held on Saturday, April 22, 9:00-11:00 p.m., and will be located at the Dune Climb parking lot.
The events will be cancelled for inclement weather or if the stars are not visible due to cloudy weather conditions. The decision to cancel will be made two hours in advance of the event; please call 231-326-4700, ext. 5005, for a voicemail message with the decision.
All programs offered by the National Lakeshore are free. Participants need only purchase the Park Entrance Pass or have an Annual Pass displayed in their vehicle to join in the fun. Passes may be purchased at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire and cost $15 per vehicle for seven days. Visitors are encouraged to bring a flashlight for the walk back to their cars and should bring bug spray if desired. Visitors may also want to bring binoculars, beach chairs, blankets and water.
The events will take place at different locations throughout the National Lakeshore in order to take advantage of strategic viewing opportunities and to offer the very best experience to the visitors. There will be prospects for star-gazing, eclipses, meteor showers, solar viewing, storytelling, and more. Starry night skies and natural darkness are important components of the special places the National Park Service protects. National parks enclose some of the last remaining harbors of darkness in America, and provide an excellent opportunity to experience this endangered resource firsthand. These events are also the perfect occasion to “Find Your Park” in the stars, and share your adventures at FindYourPark.com. So visit the National Lakeshore and enjoy the following celestial summer events:
April 22 (9:00-11:00 p.m.), Dune Climb
Enjoy the dunes under a setting crescent moon and take the opportunity to view Jupiter and distant celestial objects. The theme of our first Star Party is "Night Sky 101,"explaining the basics of astronomy to visitors and conducting activities centered on the basics of preserving the night sky. This evening will also be the peak night of the annual Lyrids Meteor Shower (April 16-25). Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
May 13 (9:00-11:00 p.m.), Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Stop #3 Dune Overlook
The scenic overlook at Stop #3 provides outstanding views of the northern and western horizons, both in daytime and at night. Examine the moon early and then observe Jupiter and the starry skies once the moon sets. Please park at Picnic Mountain; the next right after Stop #2.
June 24 (4:00-6:00 p.m. & 9:00-11:00 p.m.), Dune Climb
On this date, two events offer you opportunities to focus on the sky. The first event’s focus is on our closest star, the sun, using solar telescopes. The second event takes place in a new moon period and is a great chance to view distant celestial objects as well as the evening planets of Jupiter and Saturn. Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
July 29 (4:00-6:00 p.m. & 9:00-11:00 p.m.), Dune Climb
Safely examine the sun up close with solar telescopes during the afternoon at the Dune Climb and then come back a little later to relax under the stars and observe Jupiter and Saturn. Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
August 12 (4:00-6:00 p.m. & 9:00-11:00 p.m.), Thoreson Farm in Port Oneida
Celebrate the last day of the Port Oneida Fair with a dual Star Party event. Finish off your afternoon with a solar viewing and then come back after dinner for a Star Party treat. Observe the beautiful summer night sky constellations, Saturn, and possibly a few bright Perseid meteors. The Perseid meteor shower is one of the very best showers to observe and this evening will see the peak.
August 21 (12:50-3:40 p.m.), Dune Climb
On this date, the continental United States will witness the first visible total solar eclipse since 1979. Even though the path of totality will arc across the central states from Oregon to South Carolina, Sleeping Bear Dunes will provide a wonderful place to see a magnificent partial solar eclipse. Safely observe this rare event with solar sunglasses.
September 23 (9:00-11:00 p.m.), Dune Climb
This event takes place only three days after a new moon, providing an excellent opportunity to observe deep space objects, as well as the planet Saturn. Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
October 21 (8:00-10:00 p.m.), Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Stop #3 Dune Overlook
This date marks the 47th Anniversary of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Celebrate the National Lakeshore’s birthday with the final Star Party of 2017. This will be a great occasion to observe the night sky, planets, star clusters, nebulae, and distant galaxies. Please park at Picnic Mountain; the next right after the Stop #2.