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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.
To help celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS), Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will be hosting Celestial Centennial Summer events; 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 16, 9:00-11:00 p.m., and will be located along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at Stop #3, with parking at Picnic Mountain (first right after Stop #2). If an event must be cancelled due to inclement weather conditions, a voicemail message will usually be posted two hours in advance. Please call park rangers at 231-326-4700, ext. 5005, for information concerning possible cancellations.
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. For all evening astronomy events, bring a flashlight for the walk back to your car and bug spray, if needed. You are welcome to bring your own binoculars, beach chairs, and blankets for a more comfortable experience, and water is always recommended for NPS programs. Park rangers and GTAS staff will wear red glow necklaces at the events for easy identification and to assist the visitor with any questions or assistance. For more information about the GTAS, please go to http://www.gtastro.org/.
Each special event takes place at a different location 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 NPS 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 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and enjoy the following Celestial Centennial Summer events:
April 16 (9:00 - 11:00 p.m.), Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Stop #3
Celebrate the start of National Park Week with our first Night Sky Party. All Park Entrance fees will be waived for National Park Week (April 16-24). View Mercury after sunset, as well as the waxing moon and Jupiter. This is also the first day of the Lyrid Meteor Shower (April 16-25). The Twilight Talk will be “100 Years of Planets.” Please park at Picnic Mountain (next right after Stop #2).
May 9 (7:14 a.m. - 2:44 p.m.), Dune Climb
View the transit of Mercury across the sun with the aid of a solar telescope. The last transit occurred in 2006, so take the opportunity to witness this rare event with Park Rangers and GTAS members. Solar glasses will be available to borrow. Please park in the rows furthest from the dunes.
May 21 (9:00 - 11:00 p.m.), Dune Climb parking lot
Enjoy the Dunes under a full moon and take the opportunity to view Jupiter and Mars as well. The Twilight Talk will be “100 Years of Mars Exploration.” Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
June 18 (4:00 - 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 - 11:00 p.m.), Dune Climb parking lot
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 a solar telescope. The second event is a great chance to view the moon and the evening planets of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The Twilight Talk will be “100 Years of General Relativity.” Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
July 23, Sleeping Bear Dunes First-ever Astronomy Festival
Join Park rangers and the GTAS in an all-day Astronomy Festival.
Family activities and a special presentation, “The Most Amazing 100 Years of Astronomical Discovery, 1916 - 2016” by Bob Moler, of the GTAS, will kick off the event at the Visitor Center. Safely examine the sun up close with a solar telescope during the afternoon at the Dune Climb, participate in kid and family activities throughout the day, attend programs and presentations about our night sky, and then relax under the stars at Platte Point to observe the summer constellations along with Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
(1:00 - 3:00 p.m.), Visitor center
(4:00 - 6:00 p.m.), Dune Climb parking lot
(9:00 - 11:00 p.m.), Platte Point
August 13 (4:00 - 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 - 11:00 p.m.), Thoreson Farm
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, along with the moon, Mars, Saturn and possibly a few bright Perseid meteors. Don’t forget to bring a blanket to make your night sky viewing more comfortable.
September 3 (9:00 - 11:00 p.m.), Dune Climb parking lot
Experience the late summer night sky in near total darkness tonight, and explore the Milky Way, Mars, and Saturn. The Twilight Talk will be “100 years of recognizing and studying the Andromeda Nebula as a galaxy.” 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
This date marks the 46th Anniversary of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Celebrate the National Lakeshore’s birthday with the final Star Party of the Celestial Centennial Summer. This will be a great occasion to observe the night sky, Mars, star clusters, nebulae, and distant galaxies. The Twilight Talk will be “100 years of the expanding universe.” Please park at Picnic Mountain; the next right after Stop #2.
As you find your way through the clear skies of the National Lakeshore, you are encouraged to share your adventures at FindYourPark.com and on social media using hashtags #FindYourPark and #sleepingbearnps.