Look to the Sky

Message From The Director

Have you heard there’s a solar eclipse in August?! Probably more times than you can count! 

By now, everyone has heard in August of this year we will have a total eclipse of the sun. A solar eclipse is when the sun, moon, and Earth perfectly align. The moon lines up directly between the sun and Earth and casts a shadow on Earth for a brief few minutes.  This is the first time in 26 years a total solar eclipse will occur in the United States.  And in South Carolina, we will not only be in the path of the eclipse but we will also be the last ones to see it. Yes, at around 2:30 pm, the shadow of the much anticipated total eclipse first touches the final state in its path. So mark your calendars, as there will be lots of programs and opportunities to celebrate this very special celestial event.  With all this planning for the eclipse, it reminded me of another special celestial event that happened in 1997.  The comet Hale–Bopp had thousands of people looking to the stars each night watching the comet with its long tail in the night sky.  My son was old enough to humor his dad by taking nightly trips outside to view the comet. One night I asked if he wanted to go and see the comet. He looked up with inquiring eyes and asked: “Is it going to look different tonight?" “No,” I replied. His response was priceless and a sure sign that he was on the way to growing up way too fast: “If it’s not to do anything different, I’m good.” I learned several valuable lessons that night.  First, children have a profound sense of getting to the point and they grow up fast, so enjoy their innocence. And second, too often we take nature’s wonders for granted and have to be reminded of the beauty and significance from time to time. 

I think the solar eclipse is one of those reminders. We have reservations from visitors from all over the country who want to be in the path of this unique event and a selection of programs are being developed across the state. Both serve as a reminder that something special is taking place right here in our own backyard.  I must admit I can’t wait to experience it, but it has also reminded me of something we too often take for granted: the night sky. The fact is, you don’t have to wait until August to see some very cool and interesting sights in the night sky.  After living ‘in town’ for many years, I am amazed at the night sky every time I visit a state park. Oh, the stars are out at night at my house, but when I visit a park and star gaze, the number of stars seems to multiply by the thousands. Incredible! It’s harder and harder to find places to see a night sky, but your state parks are a great place to start.  So while we wait for the sky to turn dark in the middle of the afternoon in August, don’t miss out on these special night skies waiting just for you. 

The planet Jupiter is always one of the brightest ‘stars’ and is paired with Spica, the lead star of the constellation Virgo, all year long. In April these two will be extra special, as the largest planet in the solar system will also pair up with the full moon. On the night of the full moon in April, both objects will rise together in the east moments after the sun sets in the west. Jupiter looks even brighter than normal during this event and is a must see.  Later in the year, two of the brightest celestial objects in our skies will put on quite a show at dawn. On November 13, neighboring planets Venus and Jupiter will have a spectacularly close encounter very low in the eastern sky. The two planets will appear to be extremely close together.  Oh and in between there is a full moon every month!  With names like the Pink Moon in April, the Flower Moon in May, and the Strawberry Moon in June, and the list goes on until we finish off the year with the Cold Moon the first week of December. 

Oh and the stars! They’re out there every night, even when we take them for granted.  Your parks are ready for spring, wildflowers, warm temperatures and a night sky you won’t want to miss. So pack up your camping gear or make a reservation for a cabin… we’ll leave the lights on, or should I say, Mother Nature will leave the lights on- all night! 

See you in the parks!