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 email@example.com and be sure to follow our Facebook page for more news and photos.
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
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.