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Growing STEM: A night of stargazing at a Geauga County dark sky park

The dark sky movement preserves the view of the night sky as a natural resource by controlling to amount of light pollution that can be seen.

GEAUGA COUNTY, Ohio — Have you heard of the dark sky movement? It's an effort to reduce light pollution, which benefits wildlife and cuts down on energy usage. It also makes the stars more visible at night.

One of the best places to view the stars is at a dark sky park. With only 60 in the United States, we are fortunate to have one in our own backyard in Geauga County.

"It should be a great night for looking at stars," remarked Chris Mentrek, a naturalist for the Geauga Park District.

As the sun sets, foot traffic picks up on the trails of Observatory Park. One of the first dark sky parks east of the Mississippi, meaning you can see stars and the planets you many not have before.

"It's a place where you're not chased away as soon as the sun goes down,” said Mentrek. “Folks can stay as late as they want to check out what nature and the night sky are doing as late as they need."

It's one of the park's night sky viewing events, where visitors get to see things, like the sun in a different light, through a sun-spotting telescope.

"It is covered in storms today in sunspots. Check it on out," comments Mentrek.

A bigger telescope brings a view of planet Venus closer. A sight that can be magical.

"We pretend telescopes are fancy, but they're all just basically funnels. They've got a big wide end at the front to collect starlight and a narrow end that takes it into your eyeballs,” said Mentrek. "Which makes far away things that are dim a whole lot brighter and a whole lot clearer."

As dusk fades into night, the real show begins.

"And tonight, we actually got some good weather. So a lot of folks have come out to check out the sky," Mentrek said excitedly.

"I'm enjoying watching the sunset and trying to figure out what I'm looking at. I think we're looking at Venus right now and we're starting to see a few more stars," said Gabi Kisner, a first-time star gazer.

The largest telescope of the night explored craters on the moon. Every couple of minutes, the view is adjusted because of the movement of the Earth.

"We got to see the moon,” said Monique Uthman. “I had to climb up the ladder to see the craters of the moon. Very detailed, it's super, super detailed."

On this night, a hundred visitors took in celestial experience.

"We get a big boost from the surrounding community. We're in Montville Township, which keeps it really, really, dark at night,” said Mentrek. “A lot of folks turn off their lights or keep their windows shut at night. I mean, Public Square is a mere 32 miles to the west of us, but it's like a whole different world, just making that quick trip out to Observatory Park."

There are only 111 certified dark sky parks in the world.

"To get to see the stars and the moon and Venus and the International Space Station twice. So everybody had a really good night interacting with the sky," Mentrek said in summing up the night. "So we're hoping people walk away kind of inspired to check out the sky and the seasons and what's going on all around them in the universe."

The International Dark Sky Association distinguishes the quality of the night sky with a gold, silver or bronze designation. Observatory Park is ranked as silver.

For a schedule of events at Observatory Park click here.

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