TRAVERSE CITY — An inaugural space and astronomy festival is coming to downtown Traverse City this weekend, complete with star-gazing, live music, a film, and a talk about dark energy.
The MIDWEST Space Fest is organized by Magnetic North Nonprofit, a new organization founded by Carolyn McKellar, its young executive director.
McKellar, 23, gathered fellow astronomy enthusiasts a year go to discuss her space festival idea. She said a shared passion for space inspired her and other board members to form the nonprofit.
McKellar is a NASA solar system ambassador, and has given many students their first in-depth look at the night sky.
“Honestly, the reaction of little kids when they first see the rings of Saturn just makes my heart melt,” McKellar said.
The festival kicks off Friday at 6 p.m. at the State Theatre with the Emmy-nominated documentary film, “The City Dark: A Search for Night on a Planet That Never Sleeps.”
Jerry Dobek will preface the movie with a “night sky” tour, using the fiber-optic stars he helped install on the theater ceiling. Mary Stewart Adams, program director of the International Sky Park in Emmet County, a dark sky park, also will speak.
A launch party at the ECCO Event Space at 9 p.m. will host festival sponsors, distinguished guests, and a limited number of ticket-holders.
On Saturday the festival will offer free activities at the Open Space from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., including solar viewing, exhibits, local and state astronomy clubs, a theater group, a superconducting cyclotron, and stomp rocket launch. In case of bad weather, exhibits and activities will move to the ECCO Event Space, located in the lower level of the Front Row Centre Building, 121 E. Front St. .
The day’s highlight is a speech on “Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe,” by Alex Filippenko, a University of California Berkeley professor and astronomy researcher, best known for his frequent appearances on the History Channel. Tickets are required for the 11 a.m. event at the ECCO Event Space.
Following the speech, participants can look at free exhibits from NASA, the Saturn V project, and more.
Free star tours will be held at NMC’s Health and Science Building, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Free tickets are available at starlab.eventbrite.com. The event also features a NASA Space Shuttle tile and Vacuum Science, an exhibit about atmospheric pressure.
The festival concludes Saturday with a free Star Party at the Open Space from 7 to 9 p.m., with star gazing, a short talk by astronomy teacher, researcher and storyteller Mary Stewart Adams, and music by The Accidentals and musical duo Katie Larson and Savannah Buist. The public is encouraged to bring telescopes.
For tickets or more information, visit www.magnorth.org.