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Where dark skies meet your eyes: Adirondack Sky Fest this weekend

Dan McClelland

by Ian Roantree

In its vastness and beauty, much like the cosmos, the Adirondacks provides some of the darkest skies on this side of the Mississippi River. Our small communities, rolling mountains and immense forests offers us a nearly untapped wilderness in our backyards and our dark skies put us in a front-row seat to view another wilderness; the one above.

Those Adirondack dark skies and the mysteries and magnificence of the wilderness above are being celebrated at the first annual Adirondack Sky Festival on Sunday, July 21. Hosted by the Adirondack Sky Center and Observatory (ASCO), still known to some as its former name, the Adirondack Public Observatory.

In partnership with the Tupper Lake community the Wild Center, Tupper Arts, I Love NY and Stewart’s Shops, this festival will take the astro-curious, sky enthusiasts, amateur and professional astronomers throughout Tupper Lake to its variety of events.

From the Wild Center’s Flammer Theater and the Tupper Lake High School, to the observatory at 178 Big Wolf Road, these events will embark you on a trip of wonder, learning and awe from the early afternoon into the night when those dark skies reveal themselves..

Star gazing will start at 1 p.m. in broad daylight at the ASCO when officials roll back the observatory roof to begin the activities planned.

With specialized telescopes, guests will get a different view of our closest star than we might be used to—through squinted eyes or with hand over brow (for the sake of your sight don’t look with your naked eye balls!). The ASCO’s powerful solar telescopes will safely reveal up-close views of the sun spots and solar flares that are being cooked up roughly 93 million miles away.

Through to 5 p.m., the ASCO will also be the site of many hands-on activities including telescope demonstrations, binocular training, crafts and a scavenger hunt.

Meanwhile, at 25 Chaney Road, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the high school gymnasium will be set up not for the viewing of Tupper Lake varsity sports stars but instead the viewing of the stars of our night sky through the planetarium shows led by experimental projection artist and filmmaker, Bruce McClure. In a Sky Lab inflatable planetarium, standing 12 feet tall and rigged with a cosmic projector McClure will bring an engaging and immersive experience to anyone who enters this jet-black igloo-like dome.

Other early-afternoon events include The International Dark Sky Association’s 1:30 p.m. lecture, Light Pollution and Impacts on Wildlife in the Wild Center’s Flammer Theater, presented by Andy Anderson.

At 3:30 p.m., at the Flammer Theater, former NASA optical designer, Al Nagler presents: Helping Apollo 11 Astronauts Get to the Moon: Work on Simulators.

And finally at the Wild Center, Gib Brown, former meteorologist at WPTZ and college professor is presenting Science on a Sphere.

At 7:30 p.m., in the high school auditorium, Jeff Miller and David Fadden present Star Stories of the Haudenosaunee, Greek and Roman Traditions.

The constellations we see in our night skies today, like the zodiac constellations and Ursa Major and Minor (the dippers), are rooted in Greek and Roman mythologies. “Every culture from the beginning of time has their own set of constellations,” said ASCO vice-president, Seth McGowan. “We’re very Greco-Roman oriented but the truth is, the Native Americans have their own traditions, legends and views of the night sky.”

From 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., at the Flander’s Park bandshell, local cover-band, Night School with take you into the night with pop and rock hits best to be enjoyed under a star-filled sky.

After the music, everyone is invited back to the ASCO to continue the stargazing, either on your back with just your eyes, or with the many professional telescopes the observatory has to offer.

“This is a big event,” said Seth McGowan. Our purpose is to continue our education and programming. That’s what the day is all about.”