This weekend, hundreds (thousands?) of folks will hit Mount Desert Island and not pay any attention to its beauty. They will be there for the Acadia Night Sky festival. We’ve participated in the festival in the past, and while the entire event falls under the banner of “family-friendly,” there definitely are programs better suited for certain ages.
While this is not an official or full listing of the events–that can be found here–consider more of a pocket guide for the younger set. As always, these are my best guesses; you know your kid and their interests best. The weather looks iffy this weekend, so before you head out, double-check the festival’s Facebook page for program updates.
Best for all ages
Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos II: Star Stories of the Dawnland (all weekend, Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor) What happens when you give Wabanaki youth access to robotic telescopes and ask them to take pictures of the universe? The answer is really, really beautiful art. This exhibit will be up all weekend, so stop in and check it out. There is an abbreviated exhibit online that is worth checking out if you can’t see it in person.
Celebration of the Sun (Friday, 1:30-3, Hulls Cove Visitor Center) or Solar Viewing (Saturday, Jackson Laboratory, 11-2). Those with kids too young to stay up late enough for the stars, or who just prefer daylight adventures, should check out these opportunities to use specialized equipment that makes viewing our friendly neighborhood star safe.
Fran Hodgkins & Mike Taylor: The Secret Galaxy Talk and Book Signing (12-1:15) and Kids Craft-Stars (1:30-2:45) (Sunday, Jesup Memorial Library, Bar Harbor) Hear about the new book, “The Secret Galaxy,” and attend the author signing. Afterward, create a star-themed craft.
Best for ages 10+
The Great Celestial Bear: Ursa Major in Science, Culture & Myth: Jan Hoey (4-4:45) and The Great Swan: Richard Luecke (5-5:45) (Thursday, St. John Church, Southwest Harbor) These talks about the history, mythology and importance of two major constellations look great, but all the sitting may be too much for the younger crowd. Astronomically-minded tweens will probably love the chance to add to their constellation-identification skills. I remember when I learned about Orion around this age; I still consider him to be a personal friend.
Stars Over Sand Beach (Thursday, 9-10) or Star Party at Seawall (Friday 8-10) The star parties are great fun, but we found the late hour and crowds make it challenging for the younger set. (Ever loose a five-year-old on a crowded, pitch black beach? I have.) But older kids should love the opportunity to hear rangers point out constellations and discuss the galaxies. The Seawall party includes telescopes, but be aware that there is usually a line to peer through one.
Dan Barry, MD, PhD, Astronaut: Follow Your Dreams (Friday, 4-6:30, Criterion Theater, Bar Harbor) What kid doesn’t want to hear a real astronaut talk about the experience? The presentation includes a video presentation of space-flight that may be intense for younger kids, but ideal for this age range.
The Real Dancing with the Stars: What’s Up Tonight? Jan Hoey (Friday, 7-8, Seawall Campground Amphitheater) Learn about the fall constellations. If you will be attending this night’s star party, this might be a great preview. If the star party is too late for your crowd, this might be a great alternative.
Celestial Cinema: “The Astronaut Farmer” (Friday, 7:30-9:30, Agamont Park, Bar Harbor) More interested in on-screen stars? Try a free outdoor movie (rated PG).
Richard Luecke: Cruising Along the Milky Way (Saturday, 11:30-12:30, Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor) Take a tour of our own galaxy, including our most prominent constellations. This presentation will likely be okay for younger kids with a strong interest and an ability to sit still.
Astronaut Dan Barry: Sensations of Space Flight (Saturday, 4-5:30, Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor) This sensation-focused experience (liftoff, floating, everyday life in space) could be intense for younger kids but just right for tweens and older.
Bob Reichman: An Eye to the Sky (Saturday, 7-8, MDI High School) Another great-looking presentation on finding constellations, this one will also touch on navigation and includes a starfinder to take home.
Bob Reichman: Plutoids, Dwarf Planets and other Transneptunian Objects, Oh My! (Sunday, 1:30-2:45, Jesup Memorial Library, Bar Harbor) Take on the Pluto controversy first-hand, as well as see photos from the recent NASA fly-by of the not-planet.
Best for teenagers and adults
Keynote Presentation: Dr. John A. Grant, III Geologist at the Center for Earth & Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum Exploring Mars with the Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers (Thursday, 6:30-8, MDI High School) This in-depth talk about the rovers on Mars should be great for anyone, but especially for older tweens and teens interested in robots and spaceflight.
Alisdair Davey: Solar Talk (Saturday, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM, Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor) For those with an interest in the sun, this presentation by a Harvard Astrophysicist could be fascinating.
Film: “Galaxy Quest” (Saturday, 2-3:45, Reel Pizza) One of the funniest space-related movies ever, in my book, but perhaps to rowdy and Star Trek-centered for younger kids.
Don’t want to come to Mount Desert Island area? Don’t worry. Remember, you can make your own night sky festival this weekend–or anytime. Just look up.