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Preserving Dark Skies Paramount at Annual ND Stargazing Festival

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is hosting the seventh Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival. (nps.gov)
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is hosting the seventh Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival. (nps.gov)
August 29, 2019

MEDORA, N.D. – To enjoy the stars, a dark night far from light pollution is key.

And that's just what Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota offers at its annual gathering for space enthusiasts.

For the seventh year in a row, the park is hosting the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival, a celebration of the dark skies even as they become less abundant.

The stars can be especially elusive in cities. But Eileen Andes, chief of interpretation and public affairs at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, says North Dakota is known for its dark skies.

"They're not quite as dark as they used to be because of surrounding development, but you can still see the Milky Way and the stars and the planets as well through telescopes and with the naked eye,” she points out. “It's really important to preserve that."

The festival takes place Friday through Sunday with speakers each night at the Cottonwood Campground amphitheater, including William Wren from the University of Texas-Austin on Friday. Wren will speak about the importance of preserving dark night skies in areas of intense development.

There also will be more than a dozen telescopes available at Peaceful Valley Ranch to view the stars.

The festival includes events for children, including model rocket building and "solar system hikes."

Andes says it's important to engage children about space and adds that folks don't have to be experts to enjoy the festival.

"Sometimes, people get intimidated by astronomy and they think you have to have a really expensive telescope, but everybody's got to begin somewhere and this is a great place to do that," she states.

Friday is the new moon, giving night sky observers the clearest view of the heavens.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND