By Emma Castleberry
On Saturday, April 13, Mayland Community College (MCC) will host an event as part of the North Carolina Statewide Star Party. “After the completion of the Bare Dark Sky Observatory in May of 2017, we are excited to be able to take an active role in promoting education on dark skies and to share the amazing experience of looking at the night sky through our telescope, the largest public telescope in the state,” says Margaret Earley- Thiele, executive director of the MCC Foundation.
Starting at 6 p.m. at the Earth to Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory, the free event will feature children’s activities, food from a local food truck, the groundbreaking for MCC’s new planetarium, and, of course, star gazing. The new planetarium, slated to open in February of 2020, will feature a dome of more than 36 feet and seating for 62 people. Programming will include shows that illustrate different skies around the globe, STEM education and laser shows.
The Statewide Star Party is a signature event of the North Carolina ScieNCe Festival, an initiative of UNC’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center that is intended to encourage children to pursue science careers. The ScieNCe Festival provided the astronomy-related activities that will be available at MCC’s event, which explore topics such as how moon craters are created by asteroids, phases and eclipses of the moon and size differences between the earth and moon. There will also be a photo booth for pictures with Kelvin the Robot, the official mascot of the ScieNCe Festival. “This event is important to the local community because it teaches the importance of astronomy education, encourages preservation of the dark skies and brings people from all over the state to the area,” says Earley-Thiele.
The MCC Astronomy Club will be on hand at the event to answer basic astronomy questions about telescopes, the location of stars and constellations, and common mythology associated with stars and constellations. “No matter where one lives, everyone has looked up at the stars at one point in their life, whether just star gazing or using telescopes to explore more deeply,” says astronomy club president Brandon Pitman. “The star party is a great opportunity for astronomy hobbyists and enthusiasts around the region to come together and share their knowledge and stories as a community.”
The Earth to Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory is located at 66 Energy Exchange in Burnsville. Parking is available at the Earth to Sky Park with shuttle service from the parking field to activities and to the Observatory. For more information, visit Mayland.edu/StarPark.