Join us for the Celestial Centennial & MarsFest Symposium, April 8 - 10 2016

SAVE THE DATE APRIL 8 - 10, 2016

To celebrate the National Park Service's Centennial, Death Valley National Park is hosting the Celestial Centennial, a night sky and space festival to be held on April 8th to 10th, 2016!


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Few places in the United States have night skies that are as dark and inviting as Death Valley. There are also very few places in the world where the extremes of our planet can offer a look into what may be possible in our Solar System and beyond.

The SETI Institute, National Park Service, NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), and Death Valley Natural History Association are proud to collaborate this year to again bring educators, scientists, the public, and National Park enthusiasts together to celebrate Death Valley Celestial Centennial.  

This event features star-gazing and night sky viewing, evening keynote speakers and panels, NPS interpreter-guided field trips to analog sites, and an expo with hand-on activities led by representatives from NASA, JPL, research organizations, and universities – including a Curiosity mini-rover and NASA Mission payload demonstrations.  

The goal of the Celestial Centennial is to offer the public the opportunity to learn more about our planet, solar system, and how that knowledge helps us plan for humans to explore beyond Earth. Death Valley National Park plays an important role in contributing to the scientific community. There are several planetary analog research sites within the boundary of the Park’s rugged and other worldly-like terrain, and we are excited to share this little known, but extremely important, use of our public land. Death Valley has been used as an analog site for other planets, enabling researchers to study Mars-like environments to test the Mars rovers, including the upcoming 2020 mission to Mars.

Some of activities include:

  • On Friday night, Tyler Nordgren, an astronomer as well as night sky advocate, will deliver a keynote speech, followed by a Planetary Radio Broadcast featuring Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Institute, Jill Tarter, and Tyler Nordgren.
  • Saturday, April 9th the Park will host two Expositions, one during the day, and one after dark! Each will include family-friendly activities like stories, demonstrations, and night sky viewings. NASA Ames Planetary Scientist Chris McKay will give an after-dinner highlight talk. 
  • The Timbisha Shoshone will also share stories about their “Valley of Life” at a campfire presentation preceding the after-dark festival. Rangers, astronomical societies, and scientists will have telescopes available for night sky viewing, as well as some presentations.
  • Talks and field trips will run throughout the day from Friday through Sunday.

Over the past four years we have worked together to elevate public awareness about planetary analog research here on Earth, and the associated missions in space such as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and the upcoming Mars rovers.  

This year’s event will have a much broader focus of the night sky and exploration beyond Mars.

The first three MarsFest weekends, held in 2012, 2013, and 2014 were extraordinarily successful thanks to the dedication of Park personnel, the SETI Institute, and NASA Centers, with key support from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Education and Public Outreach Team.  

Support for the festival comes from several scientists, education and outreach professionals, astronomy club members, and planetary science enthusiasts (e.g., The Planetary Society and The Mars Society), who volunteer to share time, information, resources, and their passion with visitors.  

The Celestial Centennial & MarsFest Symposium 2016 Organizing Committee:

  • Linda Slater, National Park Service, Death Valley
  • Rosalba Bonaccorsi, SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center/NASA Ames Research Center
  • Lora Bleacher, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Andrea Jones, Planetary Science Institute/ NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Carrie Hearn, National Park Service, Death Valley
  • Alexandra Rothermel, National Park Service, Death Valley
  • Michael Ellis, National Park Service, Death Valley