By Coggin Heeringa, Interpretive Naturalist, Crossroads at Big Creek, Inc.
At Crossroads at Big Creek, the fall archaeology and astronomy programs are underway, and curiously, the dissimilar initiatives have a great deal in common. Our team of professional archaeologists and the members of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society (DPAS) areusing high-tech methods to investigate the past. And both groups are passionately committed to education and public outreach.
On Saturday, September 24, at 8:00 pm, the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society will dedicate its phenomenal new telescope, a PlaneWave Instruments CDK 400 Observatory System — a telescope and mount which cost an astronomical $78,000. The purchase was funded through a bequest from the late Dr. Ray Stonecipher, and by trading in the old scope.
The dedication is just part of a telescope-themed DPAS Astronomy Day on Saturday from 3:00 to 9:00 pm. During daylight hours, visitors can enjoy looking through the special solar telescope (which has safety filters), view planetarium shows, enjoy kids’ programs and tour the Leif Everson Observatory. The dedication of the new telescope will be followed by (fingers crossed) amazing views of clear skies. Or, alternately, a PowerPoint show of images taken with the new telescope.
During observatory tours, visitors will not look through an eyepiece. A special camera, attached to the scope, enables groups in the Stonecipher Astronomy Center to view the stunning images on the large flat screen – and soon, on home computers.
In addition to enjoying the mind-boggling beauty of the space images, wrap your head around the idea that in gazing at the night sky, you literally are looking into the past.
The first image I saw through the new telescope was the Ring Nebula. It was colorful and gorgeous but its light had traveled through space for 2000 years before it was captured by the telescope. (Understand that the speed of light is 5.88 trillion miles a year.)
Discussing light years as distances to “galaxies far, far away” gets complicated because the universe is expanding. Suffice it to say that the new telescope detects light that has been traveling for millions of years.
It also can detect “nearby” stars like Kepler 62 in the constellation Lyra which has gained notoriety because it has a planet that might possibly be habitable. The star image we see began traveling toward the Earth about a thousand years ago, just about the time, according to our archaeologists, First People found the shores of our Cove Estuary Preserve habitable and were living, at least seasonally, on the land now owned and managed by Crossroads.
Crossroads’ Fall Archaeology Experience this year is funded by Midwest Archaeological Consultants, the Historic Preservation Fund of the Door County Community Foundation, and the Wisconsin Archeological Society. For two weeks, a number of professors and professional archaeologist will be working pro-bono at the Cove site in preparation for a presentation they will make at the Midwest Archaeology Conference this October.
Though the archaeologists will be meticulously conducting a dig and analyzing their finds, (which will be sent to labs through the United States for scientific analysis) they will also conduct hands-on archaeology field trips for area schools. Additionally, they offer adults who have always wanted to “dig” the opportunity to watch, chat with the researchers or, if they would like, actually dig and sort artifacts at an “Archaeology Outreach Program” on Thursday and Friday, September 22 and 23, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. No need to register in advance. The experience is free. Participants can park in Crossroads Cove Estuary parking lot at 817 20th Place (just off Utah Street).
In collaboration with the Door County Master Gardeners Association and Wild Ones of the Door Peninsula and as a part of our Land and the People initiative, Crossroads is sponsoring a lecture called “The Myth of Unspoiled Wilderness” featuring archaeologist Dr. Robert Jeske who currently is leading the archaeological research at our Cove Estuary Preserve.
Dr. Jeske, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, will provide insight on how First People lived and shaped the landscape, focusing on the beginnings of horticulture in Wisconsin. The program will be offered in the lecture hall of the Collins Learning Center and is free and open to the public.
Saturday, September 24 is the last, regularly scheduled Habitat Healers work session this fall, and we still have many trees and shrubs to get into the ground before it freezes. Join us from 9:30 to 11:30 am. Meet at the Workshop at 2041 Michigan Street. We invite you to visit Crossroads anytime. Though our trees are not yet at their color peak, the native wildflowers are. Asters and goldenrod are magnificent this time of year.
Crossroads at Big Creek Learning Center and Nature Preserve is located at 2041 Michigan. Crossroads is a 501(c)3 organization committed to offering education, conducting research and restoration, and providing outdoor experiences to inspire environmental stewardship in learners of all ages and from all backgrounds. We welcome your support! Become a member of Crossroads by mailing a contribution to P.O. Box 608, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235, or donate online at crossroadsatbigcreek.org