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A constellation prize

Woman looking through a telescope peering into the stars. Submitted photo.

Dress for the cool weather nights and relish one of the most rapidly diminishing resources on the planet—dark night skies.

The special air quality and visibility provided by the Class I air of Theodore Roosevelt National Park give astronomers, rangers and historians a unique opportunity to gather together for a host of activities centered on the vast expanses of space.

"Humanity has gazed in awe at the night skies for millennia," said Eileen Andes, chief of interpretation and public affairs at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. "This event celebrates not only the majesty and delicacy of this awe-inspiring resource, but it makes it accessible and fun for people of all ages."

The annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival will begin Friday, Sept. 7, and run through Sunday, Sept. 9. The event will feature exhibitions and discourses by renowned lecturers, opportunities to sun and stargaze, competitions for rocket building and launching and more.

Activities during the event are open to the public and included with park entrance fees. Some national parks collect entrance fees to assist with the cost of providing safe, meaningful experiences to park visitors. Money collected is used in ways that directly improve visitor experiences and provide the park with funds to host the annual event.

"Parks aren't only important for protecting resources — they are places where people can get outdoors, connect with nature, unplug and get off the screen," Andes said. "Events like these are things that we do that we couldn't accomplish without the help of donations, philanthropic organizations and the support of our community."

Daytime Activities - Saturday & Sunday

The Discovery Dome Theater event begins at 9:00 a.m. and concludes at 4:00 p.m. at the South Unit Visitor Center. It will provide guests with an opportunity to view films about outer space, planets, stars and black holes.

Gather the children and enjoy the festivities featured in the Kids' Crafts Activities beginning at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 3:00 p.m. The event will feature free hands-on activities aimed at promoting a healthy interest in astronomy while unleashing the child's personal creativity.

The always-popular rocket building and launching event begins promptly at 1:00 p.m. and concludes at 4:00 pm in Chimney Park. Budding rocket scientists can build, paint and launch their very own rocket into the clear skies above. This event will require a minimal fee of $10 to purchase a rocket kit.

Most people have heard of star gazing, but few have enjoyed the splendor of solar viewing. Starting at 1:00 p.m. and concluding at 4:00 p.m. at the De Mores Park, participants will have the opportunity to witness firsthand a sun spot. Young and old alike can safely view the sun through special telescopes that allow intricate viewing of solar flares, spots and more.

Finally, conclude your daytime activities with a leisurely hike through the solar system. The outdoor trek will launch every hour beginning at 1:30 p.m. and concluding at 3:30 p.m. at De Mores Park. Starting at the sun, budding astronauts will hike their way to Neptune—sorry, Pluto. The journey will teach adventurers about the planets in the solar system as they hike the half mile, easy course.

Featured Presentations — Friday, Saturday & Sunday

All presentations will be held at 7 p.m. in the Cottonwood Campground Amphitheater.

Friday will feature a presentation by Dr. Corinne Brevik on the over 2,000 planets found around other stars in the galaxy. The presentation will detail how astronomers detect them and uncover their amazing properties.

The guest lecturer on Saturday is Mary Stewart Adams. Adams will detail how once upon a time, every star had a name and a story. They told fascinating stories of people, sites, farming and ceremonies—and still inform our daily lives.

Sunday's presentation will feature Park Ranger Andrea Martinson's show and tell, where guests will experience the sights and sounds of the park's nocturnal wildlife. The lecture will explain how these animals adapt to their environment and thrive in the moonlight.

Stargazing and Telescopes — Friday, Saturday & Sunday

Guests will get an up-close look at the stars, clusters and planets in our solar system and beyond through specially designed telescopes at Peaceful Valley Ranch as astronomers and rangers share stories about the night sky.

For more information, visit nps.gov/thro/learn/nature/dakota-nights-festival.htm.

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