Cornerstones of Science in Brunswick is partnering with several other agencies to bring telescopes like this one to state parks across Maine this summer. Pictured is Cornerstones of Science Executive Director Cynthia Randall. Courtesy / Cornerstones of Science

BRUNSWICK — Visitors to a dozen state parks in Maine will be doing more than merely wishing on a star, thanks to Cornerstones of Science, which has opened the night skies by donating user-friendly telescopes.

Providing access to a telescope “really hooks people” into wanting to learn about the universe, said Sarah Post, the program and library support manager at Cornerstones of Science.

Initially, Post said, Cornerstones worked exclusively with libraries to provide telescopes for special programming and for general use. But according to a survey conducted by the organization several years ago, astronomy is among the top three categories searched by library-users.

Now the organization wants to expand its reach to the wider community, and so Cornerstones is partnering with the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Emera Astronomy Center at the University of Maine, and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to introduce telescopes to state parks, Post said.

The two-year, $14,400 grant will benefit parks ranging from Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal to the Aroostook State Park in northern Maine. Other southern Maine sites include Sebago Lake State Park in Casco.

In addition to an Orion 4.5-inch Starblast telescope, each park will receive special star kits, two iPads loaded with star apps and a variety of astronomy books to share with the public.

Post said her organization will provide training and program development for park rangers and other volunteers who might want to lead stargazing programs at state parks while also acting as a general resource.

The content and number of programs offered will depend on each park, Post said, but it’s hoped programs will give visitors a general grounding in the night sky while sparking their interest and curiosity to find out more on their own.

The project speaks to Cornerstone’s mission to “bring science alive” by providing the tools and support needed to engage people in experiential learning, while “reawakening a sense of wonder about the natural and physical world,” the organization’s website states.

Post said as state parks become more and more popular, it makes sense to partner with the Bureau of Parks and Lands.

All the parks chosen have campgrounds, which should make it easier to get people out at night and willing to try the telescopes, said Joceyln Hubbell, an interpretive specialist for the bureau who wrote the grant to get telescopes into the hands of park visitors.

She called the new state parks stargazing program a labor of love for all involved and said the hope is to “get people outside at a time they’re not normally outdoors. We really want to get people out at night exploring.”

Hubbell and Post also both said the state parks offer a great place for stargazing since the light pollution most people must contend with at home is limited in the parks. “We really believe this project will enhance the visitor experience and expand access to the night sky,” Hubbell added.

Maine has “exceptional night skies” and is home to some of the nation’s darkest skies, according to a Cornerstones of Science press release.

Hubbell has always had a passion for the stars, growing up with a father who was an aeronautical engineer.

“Learning about space and the stars is a great way to experience the wonder of the universe,” she said. “There’s still so much we don’t know and when I look up at the stars I just get so inspired and I want to share that.”

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