09ExploreNightWith the coming of the total solar eclipse in late August, a lot of attention has turned to the Carolina skies. The eclipse is not the only interesting astronomy event happening this summer, though. Park Ranger Michael Morales of FayettevilleCumberland Parks and Recreation will host the Summer Constellations and Meteor Shower event in Clark Park on Aug. 12 from 8-11 p.m.

Morales will lead a group in enjoying a summer night, watching the Perseid meteor shower and discussing the legend and stories behind the visible celestial bodies. “The Perseid meteor shower is supposed to be one of the most active meteor showers every year,” Morales said. “At their peak, there could be 150 or more meteors visible an hour.  I’m hoping for even a fraction of that earlier in the evening when we’ll be out.” 

Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation has many events throughout the year intended to engage local community members with nature, but a summer astronomy event is a little harder to coordinate. Most of the astronomy events are held in the winter because there is less light pollution earlier in the day. Dates for events are chosen half a year in advance, and working around Mother Nature is always unpredictable. “Come to the program with an appreciation of the fact that we will be on Mother Nature’s schedule, which is quite a bit slower than what folks are used to these days,” Morales said.  “I want people to try to relax and just spend some time gazing up at the night sky in wonder as our ancestors did. Many people do not have a place where they can safely just observe the sky.”

Morales’s focus is biodiversity. He leads many events in the park that focus on exploring the animals in the woods. Astronomy, however, is a hobby about which he is passionate. He is amazed by the discoveries constantly made about space, and he memorizes stories and legends about the constellations. He is usually the only ranger that leads the astronomy events. “You don’t need a telescope to learn about the night sky, but it’s nice to have one to zoom in on any heavenly bodies that may be up in the sky, like planets, nebula or galaxies,” Morales said. “Sometimes I try to coordinate a local expert to come by and assist with a larger telescope. You will not be fast enough to catch a glimpse of a meteor through a telescope. To see the constellations and the meteor shower you need to have a wide view of the whole sky. All I need is a laser pointer.”

While sitting outside on a summer night and gazing at the sky is always beautiful, Morales does have some tips for making the evening as rewarding as possible. He advises participants to bring insect repellent, lawn chairs and flashlights. It is also best to protect your night vision by avoiding electronic devices during the event. “Also, I would lower your expectations down just a bit as to what will be seen,” he added.

“The photos in magazines and websites of objects in space tend to be long exposures over hours made by powerful telescopes. The pictures are often color-enhanced on a computer to show radiation and wavelengths of energy that are invisible to the human eye. If we do see a planet or nebula through a telescope, it will be much more diffuse and washed out than what a lot of people expect it to look like.  If we see just a few shooting stars, I consider the program a success. As I said, the peak time for viewing will be after midnight. I leave this to individual families as ‘homework’ if they want to stay up late to watch them at home. My parents used to let me stay up late to watch meteor showers when I was a kid, if it wasn’t a school night. Shooting stars often appear as a quick streak of light. Larger, brighter fireballs are much less common. Seeing either for the first time can be a memorable experience for anyone.” 

Call (910) 433-1579 to register.


PHOTO: Clark Park is set to host a Summer Constellations and Meteor Shower event.

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