FSU and UT Co-Host Stargazing Party in Calhoun County

Monday, September 26, 2016

Amateur and professional stargazers alike are invited to watch the nighttime sky during an event in Calhoun County, W.Va., from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2.

A partnership that includes the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will present the third annual Calhoun Stargaze at Calhoun County Park, 380 Park Place, Grantsville, West Virginia. The park boasts one of the darkest night skies in the eastern United States. Regardless of season, the Milky Way can easily be followed from one horizon to the next.

The stargazing party, which will include amateur astronomers from six states, is part of an effort to spur economic development in distressed Appalachian communities. It is supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the West Virginia Development Office. In addition to UT, other project partners include Calhoun County, the City of Grantsville, Fairmont State University and West Virginia University Extension.

"This project is about preserving a resource, creating opportunities and expanding science in a rural area," said Tim Ezzell, a UT political scientist and one of the project partners. "It is also about changing perceptions about places like Calhoun County and showing that these areas are positive, important and necessary. This is a great way for us to apply our skills and get our students and faculty involved in an important project with many dimensions."

Ezzell added that the event will give local residents an opportunity to interact with astronomers and see planets and stars through world-class telescopes, meet people from NASA and chat with astronomer Jeff Bary, a native West Virginian who now teaches at Colgate University.

"A lot of people want to take in the night sky and experience the magnitude of pristine darkness. It's very beautiful and, in a way, very humbling," Ezzell said. "We generally say that history has existed for 6,000 years. This is the night sky people saw for over 90 percent of that time. It is important that people see and appreciate that sky."

The three-day, two-night event will feature various programs in the morning, afternoon and evening. They include a planetarium show, night sky green laser tour, and atmospheric extinction and stargazing.

The project's economic development emphasis includes development of the park to accommodate tourists drawn to the increasingly rare dark night sky. Community Design Assistance Center students in Fairmont State University's architecture program designed accessible restrooms and showers for the Smith Barn at the park. During Saturday events the FSU team, led by Philip Freeman, associate professor of architecture, will present a revised concept for a Dark Sky Park master plan.

Participants may attend just one day or all three days. Those wishing to stay the entire time may use one of seven campsites at the park for a fee of $30 per family, which covers dinner on Friday, three meals on Saturday and a farewell breakfast on Sunday. For Saturday overnight, the cost is $20. Those interested in attending only the day program on Saturday are asked to make an on-site $10 donation. Visitors who come after dark will be expected to follow star party etiquette, including no white lights, no headlights and no dogs.

For more information, visit the Calhoun Stargaze Eventbrite website.