Eyes on the Skies
On the East Coast, Maine is known for dark night skies and some of the prime skywatching is in Acadia National Park and the Mount Desert Island area. The town of Bar Harbor even has an ordinance in place to prevent light pollution.
For years Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain, at 1,532 feet, was said to be the first place touched by the sun’s morning light in the United States. Subsequent research has shown that the sun’s rays strike other, less accessible parts of the state first. Still, people atop Cadillac at dawn may likely be the first in the nation to see the sun rise on any given day.
Arrive at least half an hour before the specified time of sunrise. Dress warmly or bring a blanket, as it is colder and the winds are often strong at the Cadillac summit. You may find dozens of other people there too on any summer day. Another good sunrise-viewing spot is the Schooner Head Overlook in Acadia.
At the Cadillac summit, the Blue Hill Overlook remains the favored “sunset” spot. The Bar Harbor Town Wharf, especially at summer’s peak when the sun sets well north of west, is a good place to see spectacular color with water in the foreground. If you don’t mind a half-mile hike, Acadia’s Beech Mountain is also fabulous. Park in the summit trail parking lot and take the trail to the right, skirting the mountain’s western slope. After half a mile, the trail crosses broad open expanses of granite. You can stop there or continue to the unused fire tower. Be sure to bring along a flashlight or headlamp for the hike out.
Looking for stars or constellations only requires a relatively dark area with good views to the horizon. More often than not, that bright evening “star” you see isn’t a star at all — it’s a planet. Venus and Jupiter are among the brightest. Many people can even see the slight red tinge to Mars when it is high in the night sky.
One of the most beautiful spots to see stars is at the edge of a large lake or calm ocean. The bright points of light will be amplified in the millions of starry reflections. One of Acadia’s most popular naturalist programs is “Stars Over Sand Beach,” a 1.5-hour talk about the heavens, during July and August. “Knowing the Night,” a program about the natural world’s after-dark happenings, is another related program.
Night Sky Viewing Tips
* It can take 20 to 30 minutes for your eyes to adapt to dark conditions. Avoid bright lights: cover flashlights and headlamps with red cellophane, as red light reduces night vision the least.
* When watching for falling stars, don’t focus on any one spot in the sky. Look in the general direction of any meteor shower (say to the southwest) and the sudden trail of an incoming trail will draw your eyes to it automatically.
* A full-moon night is not great for stargazing. The bright light will lower your capacity to see faint stars and celestial objects.