Looking up

Astronomer John Frazier sets up his scope outside the community center building during the Night Sky Festival Saturday, Sept. 21.

TWENTYNINE PALMS — The night sky drew hundreds of people to gaze at heavenly objects and learn more about efforts to protect the view and explore the cosmos.

Sky’s the Limit Observatory produced the one-day Night Sky Festival, with help from Joshua Tree National Park, Joshua Tree National Park Council for the Arts and the city of Twentynine Palms, on Saturday, Sept. 21.

Events began in the morning at the observatory just outside the entrance to the national park.

Participants were invited to hike the observatory’s nature trail, tour the model of the solar system and get a closer look at the sun with help from solar telescopes provided by astronomers.

Younger participants could create solar system bracelets with beads representing the sun and the eight planets, from Mercury to Neptune.

Afternoon events centered on Joe Davis Drive by Luckie Park.

Participants got the chance to create solar clocks with paper and string and have their pictures taken in front of a comic-book view of the moon.

Nearby Patriotic Hall hosted a trio of talks about the night sky and the cosmos.

National Park Service biologist Ashley Pipkin led the afternoon with a discussion of the effect of artificial lighting on the night sky and the species that depend on it.

“What could be more inspirational than views of the night sky? It connects us culturally to those who lived on the land before,” she said.

A number of species depend on darkness at night, and Pipkin decried artificial lighting that has made that level of darkness impossible across much of the country.

Sixty-two percent of species, she said, are nocturnal.

She cited the recent example of grasshopper swarms in Las Vegas — the grasshoppers were attracted to the gambling mecca by its nighttime light dome.

She had some advice for better nighttime lighting, from lighting only what you need to light to directing light downward.

“If you are lighting your neighbor’s house, that is not very neighborly,” she said.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory systems engineer Keri Bean followed Pipkin and discussed past, present and future exploration of Mars.

Cincinnati Observatory astronomer Dean Regas took participants on a tour of the universe to wrap up the afternoon of lectures.

The evening finished with a star party at the observatory, complete with live music by Katrina Carlson and Jefferson Denim, Native American flute players and sky stories and ranger-led constellation tours.

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