You’ve probably seen the rings of Saturn in a photograph. But have you ever seen glittering ice orbiting the stormy planet with your own eyes?
Mammoth Cave National Park is offering this opportunity during a “Star Party” from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at the visitor center.
These events serve as an introduction to the galaxy for many people. Peering through the telescope, children and adults can appreciate seeing the shadows and craters of the moon, the arms of the Milky Way or stars from millions of light years away.
With the naked eye, people from urban areas tend to be amazed by what’s above them in the park. But the telescope opens up the universe.
“You can look in the sky and see Jupiter as this big light orb. But look through the telescope, you can see some of the moons,” said Dave Spence, a park ranger. “Or the rings of Saturn. I look at the night sky a lot, but I’m still amazed.”
In recent years, the park has implemented better lighting management and boosted its public outreach on light pollution in its pathway to an International Dark Sky Park designation.
Part of this effort involves reaching out to adjacent communities to recruit them to the mission of reducing light pollution.
“People do look for places where it’s dark and they can enjoy the night sky,” Spence said. “Tourism doesn’t need to stop at daylight ... and light pollution is an easy fix.”
In 2017, Mammoth Cave received a $25,000 grant from the National Park Foundation to purchase telescopes and conduct public outreach about the importance of night skies.
The park also launched monthly “After Dark” events centered on astronomical learning and enjoyment.
The weather poses challenges. Spence hosts nighttime gatherings of astronomy enthusiasts at the outdoor amphitheater, where he’ll sift through a slide show of cool space facts coupled with information about the cultural and health impacts of light pollution.
“We want people to become aware of the night sky and its importance,” Spence said.
The park plans events around astronomical events and holidays. This Saturday happens to coincide with Astronomy Day, and Jupiter and Saturn and a crescent moon will be visible.
“Star Party” participants are welcome to bring their own telescopes to set up during the event.
The “Star Party” is subject to cancellation in the event of cloudy skies, severe weather or heavy rain. For more information, call 270-758-2180 or visit nps.gov/maca/planyour visit/calendar.htm.
Next week, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace is also encouraging people to look up at night during its annual Night Sky Program, led by Eastern Kentucky University, at the Knob Creek unit of the park at 8 p.m. Oct. 11.
Telescopes will be provided, but visitors are encouraged to bring flashlights and wear weather-appropriate clothing and shoes. If there’s heavy rain or severe weather, the event will be postponed to the following Friday at the same time and location.
For more information, contact park ranger Jennie Jones at 270-358-3137 or visit nps.gov/abli.
No reservations are required.