Watching Maine’s Night Sky

When’s the last time you saw the night sky? Really saw it, the universe, spreading out above you? Between billboards, signs and streetlights, there aren’t that many places left on earth where you can. With the largest expanse of naturally dark sky east of the Mississippi, Maine is one of those places.

Miles of wilderness, as well as the unpopulated expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, mean much of Maine’s night sky isn’t polluted by unnatural light, letting the Milky Way—and in winter months, the aurora borealis—shine bright. What’s more, Mainers are determined to keep it that way.

If you’re here in winter, you may be tempted to curl up by the lodge fire after a day of skiing or snowmobiling. But it’s worth it to bundle back up and head out after the sun goes down for clear views of Jupiter, the Pleiades and Orion’s belt. Most any beach in Maine, whether on a lake or the ocean, makes for ideal winter stargazing. The farther north you are, the better your chances of glimpsing the Northern Lights on nights when they’re shining.

Maine’s view of the cosmos is so spectacular, NASA partners with the Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. Founded in 1954, the planetarium isn’t just for experts: Visit any clear Friday and Saturday night for free telescope viewings and family star shows. Other amateur observatories that welcome visitors are the Blueberry Pond Observatory just north of Bradbury Mountain State Park and the Astronomical Society of Northern New England’s observatory in Kennebunk.

But you don’t need a telescope to see the beauty of Maine’s night sky. You just need to look up. In the early years of the 20th century, the residents of DownEast Maine made sure to protect the natural beauty that surrounded them during the day by creating Acadia National Park. Then in the early years of the 21st century, the residents of Bar Harbor went a step further to make sure that the beauty that surrounded them at night was also protected. In 2009, the “Bar Harbor Ordinance—Light and Glare” was voted in by a landslide popular vote, requiring “night sky-friendly” outdoor lighting on all new construction.

This seemingly mundane municipal ordinance was actually extremely inspiring for the surrounding community, spurring the first Acadia Night Sky Festival later that year. Each September since then, the festival has attracted a growing number of stargazers with workshops, speakers and hands-on experiences. Proving that the night sky belongs to us all, the festival features activities for everyone, from families to serious amateur astronomers. If you can’t make the festival, Acadia’s rangers offer a one-hour Stars Over Sand Beach program several times a month on evenings in June through September.

For another uniquely Maine night sky experience, head out on the water aboard a stargazing windjammer cruise. From May to September, many of Maine’s iconic windjammer fleet offer full moon or astronomy-themed cruises. Plan to visit during the Perseids meteor shower in late summer for a truly awe-inspiring night.

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