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Katahdin Woods and Waters to celebrate dark sky designation in virtual event

PATTEN, Maine — A new moon over Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on Oct. 15 will allow the darkest skies in the Northeastern United States to be absent of moonlight, making thousands of stars and the Milky Way galaxy visible to the naked eye.

To mark the occurrence, the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters organization will hold its seventh annual Stars Over Katahdin event, along with a new organization, Dark Sky Maine. It won’t be held at the monument as in years past, but will be virtual, meeting the same fate of other events during the time of COVID-19.

While moving the stargazing to online is a setback for something usually held around campfires, outdoors and away from internet reception, the event is also highlighted this year by Katahdin Woods and Waters being designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark Sky Association, or IDA.

“We’re going to take the same campfire chats we had before, and we’ll bring them to people’s homes,” said Andrew Bossie, the executive director of Friends of Katahdin. “We’ll also give tips on how folks can interpret the night skies themselves.”

Founded in 1988, the IDA is a nonprofit organization that works on protecting areas with visible views of the night sky from light pollution, light from cities and other manmade structures that can obscure the brightness of stars.

Katahdin Woods and Waters’ designation marks the first such location along the East Coast of the United States.

“You have to submit a whole series of night sky readings showing how dark it is,” Tim Hudson, superintendent of the monument, said. “You have to be below certain numbers to be able to do this. So people have been taking readings out there over the years, and that’s how you build it up. It isn’t a one-shot deal.”

To measure the brightness of the night sky and lack of light pollution, astronomers use the Bortle Scale, which ranks the brightness of the sky on a scale from one to nine, with one being the most visible night sky and nine having the most light pollution.

Katahdin Woods and Waters ranks a two on the Bortle Scale, the second best ranking for viewing the stars. The only places that rank at one are located along Antarctica and the North Pole, Bossie said, making this part of northern Maine among the highest quality of stargazing for most ordinary citizens.

“It only gets darker if you go literally to the edge of the Earth,” said Bossie. “A lot of volunteers that are part of our community worked very hard to get this [IDA] designation. And it does mean those night skies are protected now.”

In addition to celebrating the designation, the virtual event will also feature several guest speakers, such as Kelley Beatty, a former board member of the IDA, and John Dennis of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, who will explain the importance of the night skies among the culture of the various Wabanaki