Programs & Events
Dark Sky Park Program Coordinator
Welcome to the Headlands International Dark Sky Park! The grounds, trails, and viewing areas at Headlands are open 24 hours a day, every day. Visitors are welcome to stay out through the night for dark-sky viewing opportunities, but camping is not permitted. Units like tents and campers are not allowed in the park. The Headlands is not intended as an overnight sleeping destination but instead is designed as a place to stay awake and view the stars. You may bring blankets, sleeping bags, chairs, food, beverages, etc. When packing, keep in mind that temperatures are typically 10 degrees lower than expected due to our proximity to the lake shore.
To protect the darkness of the park, please use red-filtered flashlights during your visit to the Headlands. Learn more here.
Our programs take place rain or shine, and no reservations are required unless otherwise noted.
Please save some time during your visit to stop by our “Out of This World” Gift Shop!
The Observatory is limited to park staff and researchers. Visuals when the Observatory is open are projected onto the big screen monitors on the main level. Professional star-gazers and astronomers are available on site to enhance your viewing experience during scheduled observing nights.
While the grounds, trails, viewing areas and restrooms at Headlands are always open and freely accessible, the Waterfront Event Center is only open to the public during scheduled programming and gift shop hours. The Waterfront Event Center at the Headlands is available for private rental.
To stay up-to-date on news and events at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, register for email blasts by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow our Facebook page for more news and photos.
Our scheduled Perseid Meteor Shower Program gets underway at 9 p.m. at the Headlands Guest House, and by 10 p.m. folks all over Northern Michigan are turning off their lights to join us in celebrating natural darkness and to count the falling stars!
Please arrive by 8:30 p.m. to catch sunset at the Guest House (and to get parked and settled in). Our program gets under way from 9 to 10 p.m., after which the Lights Out Challenge occurs in the surrounding communities (from 10 to 11 p.m.)
You can take part! Lights Out Across the Bay and Lights Out Across the Straits Challenges set for Aug. 12, 2016 during the Perseid Meteor Shower
About Lights OUT!
The Northwest Michigan region enjoys the unique and prestigious distinction of being home to one of the first 10 International Dark Sky Parks in the world at Emmet County’s Headlands park property.
That means all of Northern Michigan revels in the beauty created by protection of the night sky, and Emmet County continues its work toward protecting this resource through its annual Lights Out Challenge! This year, the fourth annual Lights Out Across the Bay and Lights Out Across the Straits challenges will take place on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, from 10 to 11 p.m. During that timeframe, residents, businesses and visitors in the cross-water communities of Petoskey and Harbor Springs, and Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, will compete with one-another to achieve greater darkness over their towns.
“We’re asking everyone to shut their lights off for one hour and take the opportunity to reconnect with the sky above,” said Headlands Dark Sky Park Program Director Mary Stewart Adams.
The event is timed to coincide with the active Perseid Meteor Shower on Aug. 12, one of the most popular meteor showers of the year. Participants can show their support by signing a Lights Out Pledge and posting their support in residence windows or at the entrance to business locations. Pledge forms are available on the County web site, www.MIdarkskypark.org and at area Chambers of Commerce in the four communities.
“Signing the pledge means you agree to turn out your outdoor lights and inhibit any indoor light from spilling outside for one hour, from 10 to 11 p.m., on Friday, August 12,” said Adams. “It’s free, it’s full of fun good will, it saves money, and provides a great way to get to know your neighbors. Getting in touch with the night sky stirs something almost intangible in the human being – that place in each of us where we have a deep longing for wonder.”
How will it work?
Step one: Prior to the event, designated Emmet County staff will measure the sky quality, using a Sky Quality Meter that registers darkness levels, in St. Ignace and in Mackinaw City, and Petoskey and Harbor Springs.
Step two: Between now and the event, area residents, business owners and visitors will pledge to turn out the lights and plan for an evening in the dark!
Step three: On August 12, between 10 and 11 p.m. turn out your lights across Little Traverse Bay and the Straits of Mackinac!
The winning community from each pair of towns will receive media recognition and an award from Emmet County.
Once again, the Mackinac Bridge Authority will participate in the Straits challenge by turning off the cable lighting on the Mighty Mac, and the Michigan Department of Transportation is getting involved as well! “The motivating intent behind this event is to raise awareness about the effective use of light at night. The more participation we have, the more we can effect positive change in the way we steward the vanishing natural resource of the night sky,” said Adams.
“The beauty of our natural northern Michigan surroundings is a fundamental reason why tourists choose to visit the Straits area, and why residents choose to live here,” said Bob Sweeney, Executive Secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. “While many people come north to see the Mackinac Bridge lit, we’re happy that our participation in the Lights Out Challenge helps improve the terrific views of our night sky.”
The communities that achieve greater darkness will be announced in the week following the event.
The Lights Out initiative, led by Emmet County, includes the combined efforts of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce, Harbor Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Harbor Springs, the City of Petoskey, Bay View Association, the Mayors and Village Managers of St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, Mackinaw City Village Council Members, Visitors’ Bureaus, and Downtown Development Authorities, as well as the Mackinac Bridge Authority and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
“Truly it takes the entire community to protect the vast and inspiring resource of the deep, dark night sky that we enjoy in Northwest Michigan,” Adams said. “This voluntary, awareness-raising event shines the light on the unique ways Emmet County informs our community, region and state about the importance of protecting the night sky.”
About the Perseids: What to expect in 2016
The Perseid Meteor Shower is indeed one of the most popular during the year because of the rate of meteors it produces and in 2016, despite the light of waxing gibbous Moon, astronomers are predicting a potential outburst of meteors, due to the orbital influence of Jupiter. This could potentially double the normal rates of meteors seen, though viewers should note that this is a prediction and not a guaranteed forecast, Adams noted. The Lights Out Challenge and Northern Michigan’s naturally dark skies attract thousands during the peak days of the shower. Here’s what to expect if you are planning to view the Perseids this year:
The meteor shower is most active when the constellation Perseus is highest overhead, which is after midnight local time, though there will be plenty of potential activity before that time. The shower peaks between Aug. 11 and 13; our event is scheduled for Friday night, Aug. 12. Sunset Aug. 12 is at 8:53 pm, with astronomical twilight extending until 10:52 p.m., after which time the only natural light in the sky will be from the Moon and stars.
Meteors can be seen in any region of the sky. The constellation Perseus, which lends its name to this shower, will be visible rising in the northeast along the Milky Way, following in the wake of the constellation Cassiopeia. The parent comet of the Perseid Meteor Shower is Swift-Tuttle, discovered independently by Msrs Swift and Tuttle in July of 1862.
Adams also noted the story of Perseus from ancient Greek mythology and it’s tie to this annual meteor shower: “Perseus is a son of Zeus, who transformed himself into a shower of golden stars and rained down upon the mortal princess Danae when he spied her confined to a vault in the Earth where her father had hidden her after the oracle predicted she would have a son that would slay him. Perseus went on to slay the Medusa and free Andromeda, and the meteor shower that comes from his region of the sky was believed by the ancients to be his gift of strength to humanity as the daylight hours begin to wane toward autumn.”
Our efforts were recently featured by the International Dark Sky Association to help support other communities in raising awareness about night skies~click here for that article, and follow us on Facebook for the latest up-to-date announcements. Help your community win the challenge, turn out the lights and count your lucky stars!
Lantern walking through November woods at Headlands
We know it’s still football season under the big stadium lights of fall, but it’s also the peak of the lion’s meteor shower and you’re invited to join us under the dark of night at Headlands for a beautiful experience under the starry skies.
Program Director Mary Stewart Adams will meet guests at the Headlands entrance and give a guided tour through the beautiful moonlit woods to the viewing area at the shoreline, to catch the falling stars and hear further tales of the night. This is a one mile walk in the woods, and guests are invited to bring lanterns, to coincide with seasonal traditions of taking lantern walks into dark November nights. Please be prepared with walking shoes and layers of warm clothes. The Leonid Meteor Shower peaks overhead at this time, as earth travels through the wake of starry stuff left in the trail of the Comet Temple-Tuttle.
“The Leonid is a really variable meteor shower,” said Adams, “but it’s also one of the most historically significant, because it gave rise to the science and study of meteor showers when it caused an incredible outburst in the early 1800s. And it’s November, when tradition holds that taking a walk by lantern light is done to celebrate the strength of inner light despite the challenge of growing, outer darkness.”
The Moon will be Full just a few days prior to the peak of the Leonid Meteor Shower, and while that can diminish views of the less bright meteors, there is still the promise of beautiful stargazing. Orion will be solidly over the horizon in the east, chasing the star cluster of the Pleiades across the sky, and the Andromeda Galaxy will be seen spiraling directly overhead. In addition to providing star maps and a guided walking tour by lantern light, we’ll have our telescopes out for peering deeper into the night while we wait for wishing stars to fall through the sky! Participants should dress for low temperatures. “These colder nights make for some great stargazing because there’s less haze in the atmosphere, and the dark seems to be more velvety and richer” said Adams.
The radiant of the Leonid Meteor Shower is in the sickle, or head region of the mighty Lion
Every year during the April New Moon, people around the world join in a celebration of dark skies, and at Headlands there will two opportunities for experiencing the stars with story, song, telescopes, and exceptional views. Because of the Moon phase, this year’s Dark Sky Week also coincides with the peak of the Lyrid Meteor Shower, a wonderful stream of falling stars from the Comet C/1861G radiant near the border between the constellations Lyra, the harp, and Hercules, the mighty hero. Of all recorded meteor showers, this one has the longest recorded history, even though its peak is of narrow duration. Catch the peak of the shower at the opening program for International Dark Sky Week on Friday, April 21st from 8 to 10 pm (sunset is at 8:33 pm), or join us for crescent Moon setting into the lake at the close of Dark Sky Week on Friday, April 28th, also from 8 to 10 pm (sunset is at 8:42 pm, followed tonight by crescent moonset at 11:29 pm). Click here to access a nifty graphic illustrating the Lyrid Meteor Shower. Note: Headlands staff will be on site to greet you and direct you to parking for program access. If you have questions, please call 231-348-1713, and see you there!
The waxing crescent Moon sets a romantic stage for this beautiful Summer shower of falling stars; come early for the program, then stay late for making wishes! The Moon will set at midnight, leaving in its wake the greater part of the Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower activity, which usually peaks around 2 a.m. Don’t be fooled, the Delta Aquarid Meteors can be sparse, but they leave a persistent train and they move slowly, because of their sideways angle of approach through Earth’s atmosphere.
Parking for event is available near the Waterfront Event Center, and program will be held outdoors on the event center stage, and in the dome, with views through our telescopes (please note that meteor showers are best seen by looking at a wide open sky with the naked eye, not through a telescope).
With the advent of meteor shower science in the 1800s, scientists have learned that meteor showers are connected to comets that whiz through our planetary system, leaving a trail of stuff in their wake as they burn up in their fall toward the Sun. Earth rhythmically passes through this stuff on its own orbit about the Sun, and this “stuff”, sometimes particles no larger than a grain of sand, burns up as it whizzes through Earth atmosphere, looking like bright stars falling through the sky.
According to the folks at www.earthsky.org, the parent body of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower is not known with certainty. It was once thought to have originated from the breakup of what are now the Marsden and Kracht sungrazing comets. More recently, the Comet 96P Machholz has loomed as the primary candidate for being the Delta Aquarids’ parent body.
Donald Machholz discovered this comet in 1986. It’s a short-period comet whose orbit carries it around the Sun once in a little over five years. At aphelion – its greatest distance from the Sun – this comet goes out beyond the orbit of Jupiter. At perihelion – its closest point to the Sun – Comet 96P Machholz swings well inside Mercury’s orbit.
Comet 96P/Machholz last came to perihelion on July 14, 2012 and will next come to perihelion on October 27, 2017.
Every year in October, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park dares visitors to take a one-mile walk through the woods along our candlelit path to the shoreline, where mischief and storytelling await, no matter the wind and weather. This year the October 21st event marks the 9th annual challenge, and participants are encouraged to commit to this year’s Egyptian theme, chosen because of the peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower the same night.
“The Headlands challenge was the very first ‘dark sky’ event we ever held at the Headlands. We started it in 2009, two years before we received our international dark sky designation. It was planned to coincide with the worldwide astronomy movement to get people outside viewing the sky in honor of the 400th anniversary of Galileo being the first person to use a telescope,” said Headlands Program Director Mary Stewart Adams. “But this year, it’s all about Egypt, because there is evidence that the Egyptians linked the constellation Orion to their sacred god of the dead, Osiris, and the meteor shower that comes from the Orion region of the sky will come to its peak on October 21st, the night of our event. It sets a terrific seasonal mood.”
The Headlands Challenge is part of the “Triple Fright Night” events taking place October 21st in the northwest region of Emmet County, and which include trick-or-treating at Heritage Village from 6 to 8 pm, the Headlands Challenge from 8 to 10 pm and the haunted McGulpin Point Lighthouse until 11 pm. Take in one, two, or all three events, which include games, treats, seasonal decoration, storytelling, stargazing, and the meteor shower.
“October skies can be dramatic, what with the high winds and clouds, and the thickest part of the Milky Way setting to make way for the deeper dark of the less populated star fields of the Orion region,” said Adams. “It’s just the perfect time of year to challenge yourself to be outside and brave the elements.”
The Headlands Challenge and Triple Fright Night are free events, family friendly, and open to the public. Events happen rain, sleet, snow, or shine. Participants can park at Heritage Village and trick-or-treat, then cross the street and walk the one-mile candlelit path to the Headlands Waterfront Event center for games and storytelling at 9 pm. The haunted McGulpin Point Lighthouse will remain open until 11 pm, and can be accessed from Heritage Village by free shuttle.
For event information and details, please call the Headlands International Dark Sky Park Office at 231-427-1001. You may also email at email@example.com