As construction progresses on the new Waterfront Event Center at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City, center and site details are also coming together as the anticipated completion date of June 2017 nears.
One of the highlights of the facility will be the Roger McCormick 20” Planewave telescope for installation in the new observatory this Spring. The decision to purchase the PlaneWave Telescope resulted from several years of consulting with science institute directors and astronomers throughout the state, particularly at Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, according to Emmet County Parks and Recreation Director Laurie Gaetano.
“We have been very fortunate to have the interest and support of folks like Mike Stafford and his astronomy team at Cranbrook to guide us, as well as planetarium and observatory operators from around the state – among them astronomers and museum directors from Grand Rapids, Michigan State, Eastern Michigan University,” said Gaetano.
“Our Program Director, Mary Stewart Adams, has worked closely with these groups, to be sure that we will provide the best indoor and outdoor opportunities for our audiences. I say ‘indoor and outdoor’ because experiencing the sky is not just about what’s over your own head after the Sun goes down, but what phenomena are happening over other parts of the Earth and at different times of day and night. The technology available to us now allows us to live stream eclipses from around the world, to live stream with the ‘space for everyone’ Slooh Telescopes, to prerecord phenomena in our own region for sharing during the daytime or inclement weather – the opportunities for learning about the night sky are not confined to looking at it at night or when it’s clear.”
The McCormick Family Foundation from Chicago and the Baiardi Family locally are two of the major funders for the telescopes at Headlands. Additional funds have been raised by the nonprofit Dark Sky Coast Association, a friends group that has formed to support programs and projects at the park.
Since Headlands was designated in 2011 as the 9th International Dark Sky Park in the world at the time, Adams has collaborated extensively in the local community, as a board member of the Outdoor Lighting Forum and as a presenter to the Northern Michigan Astronomy Club, at North Central Michigan College, as well as many other locales around the state, country and globally.
“There is so much enthusiasm for the night sky in Northern Michigan, and for the things it inspires in scientific research, art, literature, architecture, you name it,” said Adams.
“Having the PlaneWave Telescope allows us to look deeply into the night; the solar telescope allows us to view activity on the surface of the Sun without damaging our vision; and the six inch Takahashi at Headlands will allow viewers to see the nearer celestial objects in our planetary system. Not only that, this equipment allows us to give students, guests and photographers exceptional opportunities to photograph the sky and its many wonders, to learn about how telescopes are engineered, to experience what is available to us through fiber optics, and even to learn how we can integrate our observations with public presentations. All of this also can be used to inform and support management of the natural resources here, and so much more,” she added.
Through work with the Dark Sky Coast Association, Adams and county staff have met with the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District to establish opportunities for area school children that are in keeping with the uses intended by the donors and the county. “The McCormicks are particularly interested in our on-going successes, given their family’s role in protecting the property in the first place, and we are thrilled with their on-going support,” said Gaetano.
Shannon Schmoll, PhD, Director of Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University, said inspiring the next generation of astronomers and night-sky enthusiasts furthers the work of many organizations throughout Michigan.
“Galileo didn’t just point a telescope at the night sky for the first time on a whim. He studied the sky naked eye and was inspired by what he saw,” said Schmoll. “He brought out the detail in the bright points and diffuse smudges of light he saw and started a practice that lives on today with professional and amateur astronomers. Michigan is home to an incredible number of organizations, planetariums, and observatories that help inspire the next generation of astronomers, like the Headlands International Dark Sky Park.”
The Waterfront Event Center will open in June 2017. It includes program and event rental space, the observatory and two, 24-hr ADA restrooms. Outdoor gathering spaces include a patio, greenspace and an outdoor seating area. The event center will be used to support dark sky programs each month, and it is also available to the public for rental for special events and gatherings.