There were so many people at this weekend’s Devil’s Lake State Park Star Party, that after 200, we simply lost count. Well, that, and that we had some new telescopes to show off!
Each year for the last few years, the Devil’s Lake State Park Nature Center has hosted the Madison Astronomical Society to provide a free night of star gazing to for nearby communities and the park’s visitors. I say “a night” because although 2 nights a year are scheduled, one is usually lost due to clouds or other weather issues. The program has been growing in popularity every year!
The growing popularity of astronomy programs at Devil’s Lake inspired the park’s naturalist, Sue Johansen, to want to develop more programs and have telescopes available for other night programs throughout the year. With this in mind, she began applying for grants. (It’s worth noting that nature centers often have to seek their own funding through donations or grants for the programs you enjoy.) Happily, the Nature Center was awarded a matching grant from the Friend of Wisconsin State Parks which paid for new nature center telescopes! They’re not nearly as powerful as the ones you’ll enjoy when the Madison Astronomical Society is at the park, but they are still pretty strong allowing for great views of the moon and nearby planets.
Your next opportunity to come to the park and do some star gazing will be Friday, August 11th for “S’mores & Perseids”. The Perseids are the most popular meteor shower of the year. Typical rates are about 80 meteors an hour, but in peak years the rate can be between 150-200 meteors an hour. The meteor shower’s actual peak is around 1 p.m. Aug. 12, but we can still expect to see meteors on Friday night as well. There will be a campfire and the s’more fixings available for free and of course, the new telescopes will be set up for you try as well. Bring some lawn chairs or a blanket so you’re comfortable while watching the meteor shower.