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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Star Gazing with the Sequoia Parks Conservancy’s Dark Sky Festival

Jul 23, 2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine

Sky Light

August 2019
Story by John Dillion
Photos courtesy of 

The Sequoia Parks Conservancy is hosting its sixth annual Dark Sky Festival this August. Visitors will flock to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to participate in astronomical events, learn about the sky and have fun. “We get people coming in from all over California,” said Gary Rogers, a spokesperson for the Conservancy. “We’re expecting about 5,000 people.” 
Dark Sky will include an array of activities geared toward education and gaining respect for the national parks.

“We have events in the daytime that are educational,” says Rogers. 
Attendees will be offered classes in astrophotography and navigating stars in the night sky, and they can learn about an astronomical calendar. In the evenings, visitors can attend star parties and watch the sky together.

“The main thing is awareness. Most people don’t even realize they’ve never seen the Milky Way,” says Rogers, adding that the parks benefit from the consciousness of visitors understanding all nature has to offer, including the stars.

Sequoia Parks Conservancy touts this festival as the largest astronomical event in Central California. While neither Sequoia nor Kings Canyon National Parks are certified International Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark Sky Association, the Conservancy is taking steps to reduce light pollution.

“Lots of cities are now addressing light pollution. They’re recognizing the adverse effects it has on nature,” says Rogers. In nature and especially in the parks, some species require a certain amount of darkness to thrive, he says.

Most national parks have conservancies in addition to park staff and rangers. Sequoia Parks Conservancy helps with outreach to the surrounding communities and education for its visitors. Visitor centers and initiatives like the Junior Ranger program are also conducted by the Conservancy, though most of the Conservancy’s work is with maintaining the forests, resources, wildlife and trails around the parks. Around 150 search and rescue operations are conducted by the Conservancy every year.

“We fund and enable projects and programs that protect, preserve and provide access to the natural and cultural resources of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks,” Rogers says, quoting the Conservancy’s Mission Statement.
Dark Sky Festival will have its kickoff at REI Fresno and the event will feature keynote speaker Dr. Jena Meinecke, a plasma physicist studying laboratory astrophysics at Oxford University. Her current research has led her to study the origins of magnetic fields in 
the universe.

“Using the largest laser on Earth, the National Ignition Facility, we can recreate powerful astrophysical events such as supernovas in the laboratory to evince turbulent dynamo– a phenomenon that explains the ubiquitous magnetization of the universe,” Meinecke says on her website.

A LEGO model of the Antikythera mechanism will be on display. This analog calendar was made by the ancient Greeks to study astronomical movements and other celestial bodies. The clockwork device was discovered off the Greek island Antikythera in 1901.
Live music will be provided by Voices United, a women’s vocal ensemble that performs a capella in Fresno. They compete in many regional events as well as teach choral technique and vocal agility.
While lodging is available, Rogers advised it would make a better day trip than an overnight endeavor. Interested parties may contact the National Parks and make accommodations for a prolonged stay. Binoculars, a warm layer or blanket, cameras and lights are recommended along with proper clothing for a forest environment. •

Dark Sky Festival • Aug. 23-24