By MIKE NORTON
TRAVERSE CITY – Astronomers and star-gazers of all kinds are expected to cluster in this northern Michigan resort town Oct. 4-5 for the inaugural Midwest Space Fest.
The festival – timed to coincide with World Astronomy Week — will feature two days of activities, films and talks – including a keynote address by Dr. Alex Filippenko, Professor of Astronomy at the University of California-Berkeley.
Carolyn McKellar, executive director of the new festival, said the event was founded to offer “a new, non-traditional way to experience astronomy and space sciences” that will appeal even to the scientifically impaired.
“You can look through telescopes at our amazing northern Michigan skies, enjoy a film, listen to music with a space theme or hear one of the greatest astronomers of our day talk about ‘runaway galaxies,’” she said. “You can’t help but leave with a new feeling of wonder about the universe.”
Located on a deep bay of Lake Michigan, Traverse City is better known as an outdoor recreation center than as a “space town” like Huntsville, Houston and Cocoa Beach. Most of its many festivals revolve around cherries, horses, wine and beer. But thanks to its wide vistas and comparative lack of city lights (it’s located near the International Dark Sky Park at the tip of Lower Michigan) it has always had a healthy contingent of astronomy enthusiasts.
McKellar is one of them. As a young student she was a habitué of the J.H. Rogers Observatory at Northwestern Michigan College, and during her senior year at Michigan State University she was named to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s volunteer “Solar System Ambassador” program. In 2012 she founded Magnetic North, a nonprofit organization devoted to creating educational events centered on the night sky, physics and space exploration.
“That’s really what the Midwest Space Fest is,” she said. “It’s a big celebration of the wonders of the night sky.”
The festival will begin in Traverse City’s art deco State Theatre with a screening of the Emmy-nominated documentary film, “The City Dark,” a “tour of the night sky” by Rogers Observatory director Jerry Dobek using fiber-optic “stars” installed in the theater ceiling during a recent renovation, and a discussion on light pollution by Mary Stewart Adams of the International Dark Sky Park.
Saturday’s activities include a free solar viewing at the city’s Open Space Park hosted by members of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society (GTAS), free indoor exhibits and activities, culminating in Alex Filippenko’s presentation on “Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe.” A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Filippenko is best known for his many appearances in the popular History Channel series, “The Universe,” and in the History Channel documentary, “STAR TREK: Secrets of The Universe.”
The festival concludes Saturday evening at the Open Space with a public “Star Party” that offers participants multiple telescope viewings of the night sky.
Although it’s always difficult to predict attendance at an inaugural festival, McKellar is expecting at least a thousand people to attend one or more of the events. Adult and student ticket prices are available for the film, party and astronomy presentation, and package ticket prices are also available on a first-come, first-served basis at www.magnorth.org. A Celestron NexStar 8se telescope will be silent auctioned at the event.
For order tickets and find out more about the festival, visit www.magnorth.org and find the Midwest Space Fest on Facebook and on Twitter: @MWSpaceFest.
To learn more about other fall events, festivals and activities in Traverse City, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.traversecity.com.
*Content sponsored by the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau.