Thing to Do

Badlands Astronomy Festival

three people stand silhouetted atop a badlands butte, pointing at the night sky.

The Annual Badlands Astronomy Festival brings together space science professionals, amateur astronomers, educators, youth groups, and park visitors for a stellar experience. Celebrate the beauty of a dark night sky and the wonder of space exploration. 

Novices and experts alike will enjoy daily family-friendly activities and evening presentations with special guest speakers. In the past, activities have included planetarium visits, solar telescope viewings, technology demonstrations, and more. Nightly telescope viewings will be sponsored by the NPS Night Sky Program and Celestron.

This three-day celebration at Badlands National Park will support the continued protection and enjoyment of our incredible night skies as a precious natural resource. Although light pollution threatens dark skies across the globe, the Badlands are nestled in a corner of the Great Plains where light pollution is not a prevalent issue. Come celebrate the dark skies of the park with us!

The festival schedule and activities vary year-to-year. Stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to pick up this year’s schedule when you visit or check out the schedule below. Most events and activities are located in wheelchair-accessible areas. Astronomy Festival events do not require advance registration or tickets. 

 Badlands National Park has partnered with the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium to co-sponsor the 2023 Badlands Astronomy Festival, July 14th-16th.

The festival brings together space science professionals, amateur astronomers, educators, and visitors for a three-day celebration.

Novices and experts alike will enjoy the spectacular dark night skies of Badlands National Park at public star parties each evening. During the afternoon each day, a variety of family-friendly activities will provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the night sky, the sun, and space exploration. Telescopes will be provided by astronomers from the Black Hills Astronomical Society, Badlands National Park, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours and the University of Utah for day and night observations. 

The schedule of events includes a scale model solar system tour and walk, solar observing opportunities, special guest speakers, public stargazing activities, static displays, as well as equipment demonstrations by professional and amateur astronomers. 

This free event is made possible through funding and support from the Badlands Natural History Association, NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, Black Hills Astronomical Society, The Journey Museum and Learning Center, International Dark Sky Association, University of Utah, Badlands National Park Conservancy, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and Badlands National Park.

Schedule of Events for 2023 Astronomy Festival: 

Planet Walk
Friday, July 14; Saturday, July 15; and Sunday, July 16
10:00 am and 1:00 pm. Learn how large our solar system is with a size-accurate scale model made by our Astronomy and Night Sky team. Meet in front of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to join us on a walk through the solar system.

Sun Fun Solar Observing
Friday, July 14; Saturday, July 15; and Sunday, July 16
3:00-5:00 pm at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
View solar flares and sunspots through our special solar telescopes, 100% safe for eyes. Various other sun-based activities will also be offered.

Paper Rocket Launch
Friday, July 14; Saturday, July 15; and Sunday, July 16
3:00-5:00 pm at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Join staff from Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in building your own paper rocket. Learn the anatomy of a rocket and what is needed to propel it into the cosmos (or our front yard). How can you make your rocket launch farther than the others?

Guest Speakers/Evening Programs/Public Stargazing
Friday, July 14; Saturday, July 15; and Sunday, July 16
9pm - 11:30 pm (Fri, Sat, Sun) at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater
Nightly evening presentations will be provided by invited guest speakers followed by hands-on experience with multiple state-of-the-art telescopes and amateur astronomers providing constellation tours while guiding visitors around the universe. View planets, star clusters, nebulae, and double stars while going down the “scope line.”

Speaker Schedule:
Friday, July 14th at 9:00pm

Where We Live
Brad Riza – Former Astronomy and Night Sky Ranger at Badlands National Park, Fort Worth, Texas.
Synopsis: Do you ever wonder about your “place” in the Cosmos? People come to Badlands NP to see the night sky and its wonders. Many come to see planets, the Milky Way, or another galaxy for the first time and leave thinking about the vastness of our universe. Come to “Where We Live” and see “something of the glory our world sails in”!

Saturday, July 15th at 9:00pm

How We Study the Geology of Mars
Cate Larsen – Geologist and Science communicator, New York
Synopsis: Mars is over 110 MILLION miles away, so how do scientists study it and learn so much about it? Come learn about things like rovers, orbiters, and places here on Earth that help us understand Mars’ geology and piece together its history. This is an interactive presentation meant to teach observation and interpretation skills, so bring your good eyes and thinking cap!

Sunday, July 16th at 9:00pm

Just 42!
Kevin Poe – Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, Bryce Canyon, UT
Synopsis: Astronomy math is VERY hard, but the science itself is pretty simple when compared to biology, geology, etc. So much so, that once you exclude Earth, there's only 42 things left to learn about before you can understand the whole Universe. Join Kevin "The Dark Ranger" Poe to get a semester's worth of astronomy from this single show.

More events may be posted or updated as the Badlands Astronomy Festival approaches.

30-60 Minutes
Pets are permitted in Badlands National Park with some restrictions. Pets must be kept on a leash no more than six feet in length at all times. Pets are only permitted in developed areas, such as campgrounds and picnic areas, and other areas open to motor vehicles, such as gravel and paved roadways, roadway corridors, and parking lots. Pets are prohibited from hiking trails, public buildings (i.e. visitor centers), and backcountry areas, including the Badlands Wilderness Area, and areas with prairie dog colonies. Pet etiquette dictates always cleaning up animal waste and disposing of it in trash receptacles.
Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.
Time of Day
Day, Night, Dusk
Accessibility Information

The event takes place in an ADA amphitheater. Certified service animals are welcome.

Badlands National Park

Last updated: July 11, 2023