The long summer days begin to wane as we inch toward the Autumn Equinox. Sunsets happen sooner and the night sky is upon us early in the evening. This may be sad for some, but there are magical moments in September and October when the air is warm, the sky is clear, and the urge to find a nearby place to watch the stars grows stronger.  According to the Pure Michigan website, our state is one of the greatest stargazing places in the continental United States because the Great Lakes surround it in near total darkness. There are six Michigan State Parks that are home to protected Dark Sky Preserves. However, where can you go without driving several hours to reach one of these destinations? A new addition to Hemlock Crossing County Park will soon provide the answer!

An ongoing partnership between the Shoreline Amateur Astronomical Association (SAAA) and Ottawa County Parks is on the verge of providing the first public observatory in West Michigan. Both groups will join with the public to celebrate the observatory’s Grand Opening on October 8. Once open, it will provide an opportunity for people to enjoy the night sky and have some close-up views of planets, star clusters, galaxies, and more through its high-powered telescope. We invite you to come and enjoy the festivities. While you’re there, stop by the information table to learn more about what you can do to help preserve (and improve) the night sky experience in Ottawa County. View programs the SAAA offers here: Shoreline Amateur Astronomical Association (holland-saaa.org)

One thing that threatens observatories around the world is light pollution. According to the 2016 “World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness,” 80 percent of the world’s population lives under skyglow, and in the United States and Europe, 99 percent of the public can’t experience a natural night. Light pollution is harming our environment, wildlife habitats, and our quality of life. The good news is that there are things everyone can do to help erase light pollution in the backyards, parks, and communities we call home.

To ensure dark skies in West Michigan, we can all take steps to do little things that make a big difference. The first is to recognize the power of personal actions each of us can take to collectively reduce light pollution in our communities. The second is to put that personal power into action. The International Dark Sky Association lists six actions to help Save the Night. Some of the solutions are as easy as screwing in warm-colored LED lightbulbs, installing dimmers or motion sensors to reduce the average illumination levels, using outdoor lighting fixtures that shield the light sources, and turning off unnecessary indoor lighting.

Ottawa County Parks, too, recognizes the importance of dark skies and is taking steps to reduce excessive lighting. Although there are places such as parking lots that need to be lit, there are environmentally responsible lighting options. We are replacing the parking lot lights to soft white ‘yellowish color’ of 3000K or less, as well as lowering the height of the fixtures to ensure they only point down to a specific area and not up. To ensure optimal dark sky conditions at the observatory, Ottawa County Parks installed new light fixtures providing both red and white light options and the ability to turn off either or both light sources.

These changes in lighting will certainly help when trying to observe and photograph faint galaxies, star clusters and nebulae,” says SAAA’s President Frank Roldon.

Ottawa County Parks and SAAA look forward to offering more programming and opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the beauty the night sky. We invite all to come celebrate the opening of the opening of the observatory on October 8 at Hemlock Crossing. Check out holland-saaa.org to view the SAAA’s full schedule of events for 2022.

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