September 28, 2020

Look Up For Michigan Astronomy Night

By Kristi Kates | April 1, 2017

Organizers of Michigan State University’s Science Festival hope that thousands of Michiganders will aim their telescopes skyward on April 7 as part of Statewide Astronomy Night (SWAN).

Renee Leone, coordinator and co-founder of the MSU Science Festival, was inspired to add SWAN to the Science Fest after experiencing a unique astronomy night in the UK.

“In 2011 my family and I spent an extended period in Cambridge, England,” Leone explained. “During this time I had the opportunity to experience the Cambridge University Science Festival, as well as enjoy an event entitled Stargazing Live.” Stargazing Live is a series of coordinated astronomy events across the UK that was so popular it was even televised. “Upon our return to Michigan, I put my energy into proposing and launching the MSU Science Festival,” Leone continued. “While our festival’s schedule always included a special evening of astronomy events, I never forgot the national experience that Stargazing Live provided.”

In 2016 the MSU Science Festival launched its first Statewide Astronomy Night with planetarium and observatory partners across the state.

Now in 2017, the festival is asking all SWAN location organizers to offer a variety of programs such as guest speakers, planetarium shows, tours, and observing opportunities, if the weather agrees.

“We want to create an evening that will be amazing, even if it’s cloudy!” Leone said. The evening is also geared to inquiring minds of all ages and levels, from novice to expert stargazers. “SWAN events are great opportunities for community members to meet and talk with astronomers, exchange ideas, and engage in new activities,” Leone continued. “I find the idea that so many people are sharing these experiences all across the state at the same time to be particularly amazing.”

Locally, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in northern Emmet County will be participating with several special events. Dark Sky Park Director Mary Stewart Adams says exciting things are happening at the venue, with SWAN offering an opportunity for people to find out more.

“We are opening our new waterfront event center and observatory officially in June,” Adams said, “but during SWAN, you’ll be able to get a sneak preview of the telescopes, which we’re just in the process of installing and synchronizing with the dome.”

With April 7’s moon set to be a waxing gibbous (between half and full), the night sky will be a little challenging for SWAN, but it’s nothing that the Dark Sky Park’s experts can’t handle. “Mars and Jupiter will be in the constellation Virgo, along with the bright star Spica,” Adams said. “So hopefully we’ll be able to get a good look at the moons of Jupiter, and the superclusters in the region of Virgo.”

Weather permitting, guests will also get a look at the surface of the moon as well as the “terminator line,” the line on the moon that separates its illuminated and dark sides. “Through a high-powered telescope like ours, we can see the craters, peaks, and valleys of the moon as well,” Adams said.

But no matter where you are in the state, you should be able to locate some of these special activities.

“If you live a bit farther north, you may be interested in activities at the Shiras Planetarium in Marquette,” Leone suggested. “If you’d like to go green, MSU’s Abrams Planetarium and Observatory will be offering a premiere of Phantom of the Universe followed by a talk with a collaborator on the show; lf you lean toward blue, the University of Michigan will have events at their Museum, Angell Hall and the Detroit Observatory.” Elsewhere, Flint’s Longway Planetarium, Bay City’s Delta College, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, FRIB (MSU’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams) in East Lansing, the Detroit area’s Stargate Observatory, and the James C. Veen Observatory near Grand Rapids are all preparing for a night of astronomy.

“The night sky can inspire big questions, such as ‘where do we come from?’ and ‘what’s out there?’” Leone said. “These are timeless and universal questions, and a statewide astronomy night brings people together to explore the questions that our universe inspires.”

For more information and a complete list of participating venues, visit sciencefestival.msu.edu (click on the purple and black Statewide Astronomy Night box).

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