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It’s almost time to watch the skies, Dark Sky Festival returns to Harmony with star-gazing and stellar exhibits

Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:05 pm

harmony-milkyway

By Peter Covino
A&E Editor
In search of that starry, starry night?
Star-gazers should get more than an eyeful at the annual Dark Sky Festival in Harmony later this month.
This is the 18th annual Dark Sky event at Harmony, a festival that was created to expose to the general public the marvels of astronomy and the importance of protecting dark skies – not just for astronomy purposes, but also for the values that darkness provides to area wildlife.
This year’s event will be held over two days, Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday, March 1, and as always, parking and admission is free. The festival takes place in and around Harmony Square.
The 11th Annual Dark Sky Festival is scheduled from  5 to 10 p.m., both days.
The event features exhibits, stuff for kids to do as well as a large selection telescopes for sky viewing, set up by various area star-gazing groups.
The current lineup of speakers includes:
- Former NASA astronaut Dr. Story Musgrave (Saturday Night).
- Katherine Nagy, head of Astronomy Education for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Friday Night).
- To Be Announced speaker from NASA.
- Derek Demeter, director of the Seminole State College Planetarium.
- Beverly Rother, representing Virgin Galactic space travel
Featured exhibitors include:
NASA, Earthrise Space, Orlando FamiLAB, Orlando Mini Makers Faire,  Hobbytown USA, Orlando Science Center and Tom’s Rocket Gear (Saturday Only).
Star Party
Things get even more serious for the avid star-gazer at the Winter Star in the Florida Keys, also coming up in February.
As many as 600 amateur and professional astronomers from around the world will gather in the Lower Florida Keys Sunday through Sunday, Feb. 23, through March 2, attracted by the chance for 180-degree viewing of the Southern Cross and other constellations during the 30th annual Winter Star Party.
The event’s primary draw for astronomers is the large number of southern constellations, comets, stars and other celestial objects that are visible from the Florida Keys — virtually the only place in the continental United States where they can be seen. The Keys’ southern location and relative absence of large-scale artificial lighting at night provide optimal viewing conditions.
The event will take place at Camp Wesumkee, a Girl Scout camp at mile marker 34.5 off U.S. Highway 1 on Scout Key, formerly known as West Summerland Key.
As well as nightly stargazing opportunities, Winter Star Party participants can attend lectures and presentations by nationally recognized astronomers and guest speakers.
Highlights are include a presentation by Dr. Valerie Neal, curator of the Smithsonian Institute’s artifact collections from the space shuttle era and International Space Station including the orbiter Discovery. Her professional accomplishments also include writing, editing and managing some 25 NASA publications and working on the mission management support team for four space shuttle mission
Other scheduled presenters include carbon star expert Bob Pitt and star party founder Tippy D’Auria, a renowned planetary astronomer and astro-photographer
Attendees also can shop for astronomy equipment from on-site vendors, participate in photo contests, compete for prizes and exchange information with fellow aficionados. Special camp activities are arranged for young astronomers.
Hosted by Miami’s Southern Cross Astronomical Society, the Winter Star Party is open to the public as well as to SCAS members. Registration is required before the event and tickets are not available at the gate.
To register and for more information go to www.scas.org/winterstarparty.htm

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The nationwide contest will be conducted using Instagram’s new video platform, accepting submissions from early February to mid-March. Voting will take place online through April, where semi-finalists will be narrowed down to one winner.
That winner and five friends or family will then take a trip to Kissimmee early this summer, where they will be treated to an insider’s view of the Orlando area, including stay at an amazing vacation home, an SUV car rental for a week and a number of exclusive experiences.
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Other scheduled presenters include carbon star expert Bob Pitt and star party founder Tippy D’Auria, a renowned planetary astronomer and astro-photographer

Attendees also can shop for astronomy equipment from on-site vendors, participate in photo contests, compete for prizes and exchange information with fellow aficionados. Special camp activities are arranged for young astronomers.

Hosted by Miami’s Southern Cross Astronomical Society, the Winter Star Party is open to the public as well as to SCAS members. Registration is required before the event and tickets are not available at the gate.

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