The Star-Herald

Francis Malcolm Science Center hosting open house

EASTON, Maine — The Francis Malcolm Science Center is welcoming families to an open house this weekend, as director Larry Berz is spreading the word about appreciating and protecting the night sky.

The Francis Malcolm Science Center’s regular open houses have “become a fun community affair for many people,” Berz said.

The event this Saturday kicks off at 10 a.m. and runs until 2 p.m. It will feature shows on the center’s new digital planetarium, model rocket launches, seed planting, and presentations on bee brains with University of Maine Presque Isle professor Scott Dobrin.

Planetarium director Larry “Mr. B.” Berz launches a giant model rocket during Francis Malcolm Science Center’s Launch Day held April 30, 2016. (Contributed file photo)

For the last several years, Berz and other supporters have been working on fundraising to continue to modernize the science center, which was founded with an endowment from the late Easton-born businessman Francis Malcolm.

In 2016, the center received a $38,500 contribution from benefactors in Houston that made it possible to purchase a new digital planetarium system.

Berz, meanwhile, is working on engaging both youths and adults in appreciation of science in general and astronomy in particular.

As warmer temperatures draw people outside, Berz is hoping they will take some time to look up at the sky, whether to see Jupiter and Venus — the two brightest planets, visible to the naked eye after sunset — or to explore the evening skies with a telescope.

Overall, northern Maine offers excellent opportunities for stargazing, particularly in more remote areas. The areas around the Deboullie Public Reserved Lands and Allagash Wilderness Waterways are considered to be dark sky preserves, Berz said.

Star gazing in the central Aroostook area, however, can be “shaky,” Berz said. Despite being a largely rural region, there is a fair amount of light pollution from street and parking lot lights in larger communities such as Caribou, Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield, plus lights from factories.

“It’s a very subtle encroachment that adds up. It doesn’t take much,” Berz said.

“What does the universe mean to each one of us? If we’re advancing to a degree of our technology and progress that we’re eliminating our vision and our respect for our place in space, we’re headed for a catastrophe,” he said.

A lifelong astronomer inspired by the 1960s space revolution, Berz is working to counteract what he calls “celestial ignorance” and “night fright.”

“When people are afraid of the night, when they won’t go outside unless they have illuminated their small square of earth, we have issues,” Berz said.

To get a good view of the night sky, Berz suggests considering getting a telescope and venturing out of town centers, if not to the Allagash or Deboullie.

“You’ve got to leave any of our small metropolitan areas, whether it’s Presque Isle or Caribou or Houlton.”

He also suggests rethinking the need for leaving home lights or street lights on all night long.

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