Top Three Reasons To Observe The Night Sky

To help celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is hosting “Celestial Centennial Summer” events—a series of monthly astronomy programs that run from April through October.

Here’s a rundown of free stargazing opportunities for Lakeshore visitors, along with our favorite reasons why thoughtfully looking at the night sky could change your life.


Serenity Now

You know that moving feeling of awe-inspiring calm—the feeling of “smallness” you get—when gazing at a sunset across the vast inland sea of Lake Michigan? A similar feeling can overtake you when contemplating the infinite vastness of space. And that’s a good thing, according to researchers from the University of California-Irvine.

Last year, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported on a university study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. After scientists carried out five different experiments involving more than 2,000 people, the results showed that by gazing up at the stars and realizing how small and insignificant we really are in the universe, awe shifts our focus away from our own individual needs and promotes altruistic, helpful and positive social behavior.”  Read the full story by clicking here.

Dark Matters

Did you know that artificial light disrupts the seasonal cycles of trees and the migratory schedules of birds? The International Dark-Sky Association has put together a whole list of the alarmingly negative side effects of light pollution. Click here to check it out. Everybody knows city lights wipe out our pristine night sky. If you come from a city and stargaze at a place like Sleeping Bear, you get a chance to see exactly how much you’ve been missing.

Free Fun For The Whole Family

Fun gadgets like telescopes and binoculars, cool phone aps, great stories and free reign to stay up past bedtime—what kind of kid wouldn’t get excited about that? Stargazing offers a fun way to engage children with nature at no cost. To do it on your own, all you need is a dark sky and smartphone with any number of free apps that takes the mystery out of identifying planets and star constellations. Many of the best aps utilize the phone or tablet’s camera—just point your device’s camera towards the sky to find the position of the stars, the constellations and the mythical stories behind their names. Click here for a rundown of 10 of the best free apps out there.


Sleeping Bear Under The Stars

In the spirit of free family fun, members of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society and rangers at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore have teamed up this summer to help visitors experience the wonder of the night sky every month.

Each stargazing party takes place at a different location across the Lakeshore to take advantage of strategic viewing opportunities. Depending on the month, targeted activities include stargazing, eclipses, meteor showers, sun viewing and storytelling.

May 21st (9-11 pm), Dune Climb Parking Lot: View Jupiter, full Moon, Saturn, Mars, binary stars, and bright star clusters from the base of the Dune Climb! Enjoy the Dunes under a full moon and take the opportunity to view Jupiter and Mars as well. The Twilight Talk will be “100 Years of Mars Exploration.” Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.

June 18th (4-6pm), Dune Climb Parking Lot: Take a look at our closest star, the sun, using a solar telescope. Later, view the moon and the evening planets of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Here's a great chance to view the moon and the evening planets of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The Twilight Talk will be “100 Years of General Relativity.” Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.

July 7th, Astronomy Fest, Visitor Center (1:00 – 3:00 pm), Dune Climb parking lot (4:00 - 6:00 pm), Platte Point (9:00 - 11:00 pm): Join park rangers and the GTAS in an all-day Astronomy Festival. Family activities and a special presentation, “The Most Amazing 100 Years of Astronomical Discovery, 1916 - 2016” by Bob Moler, of the GTAS, will kick off the event at the Visitor Center. Safely examine the sun up close with a solar telescope during the afternoon at the Dune Climb, participate in kid and family activities throughout the day, attend programs and presentations about our night sky, and then relax under the stars at Platte Point to observe the summer constellations along with Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

August 13th (9-11 pm), Thoreson Farm in Port Oneida: Celebrate the last day of the Port Oneida Fair with a dual Star Party event. Finish off your afternoon with a solar viewing, and then come back after dinner for a Star Party treat. Observe the beautiful summer Night Sky constellations, along with the moon, Mars, Saturn and possibly a few bright Perseid meteors. Don’t forget to bring a blanket to make your night sky viewing more comfortable.

September 3rd (9-11 pm), Dune Climb Parking Lot: Experience the late summer night sky in near total darkness tonight, and explore the Milky Way, Mars, and Saturn. The Twilight Talk will be “100 years of recognizing and studying the Andromeda Nebula as a galaxy.” Please park in the row furthest from the dunes with your headlights facing M-109.


All programs are free, though admission to the park requires a Park Entrance Pass or an annual pass. Participants are advised to bring bug spray and a flashlight for the walk.

For assistance at the events, look for park rangers and Grand Traverse Astronomical Society members wearing red glow bracelets.

Sleeping Bear stargazing parties will be canceled if there are poor weather conditions. This decision is usually made three hours before the scheduled event, and prospective attendees can call 231-326-4700, ext. 5005 to check the status of a Star Party.