As evening approaches Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore), we are reminded of an easily overlooked resource found throughout the country, the night sky. At the National Lakeshore, this resource, located far from sources of urban light pollution, provides visitors an extraordinary opportunity to examine the night sky with an unhindered view of planets, galaxies, star clusters and other deep space objects. In 2018, 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 14, 9–11 p.m., located at Platte River Point in Benzie County off of Lake Michigan Road.
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 $20 per vehicle for seven days. Visitors are encouraged to bring a red filtered flashlight (white light will spoil your night vision) for the walk back to their cars. Visitors may also want to bring binoculars, beach chairs, blankets, bug spray, 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 14 | Platte River Point | 9–11 p.m.
Get out to the beach to view Venus before it sets over the western horizon. Weather permitting, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the Orion Nebula after 9:30 p.m.
May 26 | Dune Climb | 9–11 p.m.
Tonight’s focus will be a 93% gibbous moon and the planets Venus and Jupiter. Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
June 23 | Dune Climb | 4–6 p.m. and 9–11 p.m.
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’s focus will be an 85% gibbous moon and will offer a great chance to view distant celestial objects as well as the evening planets of Venus and Jupiter. Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
July 14 | Dune Climb | 4–6 p.m. and 9–11 p.m.
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 Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. Mars will make its appearance around 11 p.m. Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
August 11 | Port Oneida (site to be determined) | 4–6 p.m. and 9–11 p.m.
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 be the day before the peak.
September 8 | Dune Climb | 9–11 p.m.
This event takes place only one day before a new moon, providing an excellent opportunity to observe deep space objects, the Milky Way, in addition to the planets Mars and Saturn. Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
October 21 | Dune Climb | 8–10 p.m.
This date marks the 48th Anniversary of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Celebrate the National Lakeshore’s birthday with the final Star Party of 2018. This will be a great occasion to observe the 93% gibbous moon and planets Mars and Saturn. Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.
—Press release provided by National Lakeshore