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Save our Skies

This petition had 1,328 supporters

I am writing on behalf of the Maria Mitchell Board, Staff, and Astronomers from around the U.S. and abroad, and more than 800 members of the Maria Mitchell Association, as well as the thousands of visitors to Nantucket and hundreds of Nantucket school children each year who participate in astronomy programs at the Loines Observatory on Milk Street.

Firstly, the Maria Mitchell Association applauds and encourages the construction of safe bike paths throughout the island.  However, in order to install the bike path on Milk Street next to our Observatory utility poles are being moved across the street and will be located directly adjacent to our Observatory, significantly obstructing the southern sky.  We are deeply concerned about the impact the new telephone poles and wiring will have on our night sky observers, as well as our world class astronomy research programs.  We expressed these concerns at the board meeting on November 16, 2016 but were instructed to work on this issue with Verizon independently.  But when we stepped outside to talk to the Verizon representative, we learned that this contractor for the Town has no ability to change or modify the project that was just approved by the Board of Selectmen. There was a brief discussion about moving the wires underground in front of the Observatory but that idea was dismissed.

Maria Mitchell Association has known about this project for some time and has discussed and put our concerns in writing to the Town offices and at past board meetings concerning this project.  We have been given assurances that the Board of Selectmen had made some modifications to help with anticipated parking issues and light pollution.  We appreciate that. 

The issue of the utility poles and wiring has come to light as a major issue as we have just learned that not only will the wires and the poles be located a mere 40 feet from both the historic and research telescopes, but significantly, the poles will also be 5 feet taller than the existing poles, a fact not noted previously.  And as any one of our budding scientists and mathematicians that we have mentored from our island will tell you, the visual impact as you move an object closer is dramatically more pronounced.        

This is devastating.  This change will greatly diminish the visitor experience as well as our world renowned research capabilities. We had over 3000 visitors this summer and our Director of Astronomy, as well as visiting astronomers and students, will also be impacted.  Note that Trip Advisor ranks the Observatory in the top one third of things to do on Nantucket.  

The Maria Mitchell Association with its Observatories located on the “dark sky” island of Nantucket has been a fixture on this island for over a century.  We selected this location over 50 years ago for its dark and clear view of the entire sky.  The new wires and poles will reduce the amount of clear sky visible near the horizon by almost two and half times.  This summer, Saturn and Jupiter were visible in the portion of the sky that the new wires will now occupy and the wires will also obscure the view to the center of our own Milky Way Galaxy.  What a shame it would be to impact the viewing of these jewels of the night sky.  We ask, as we had asked at the last Board of Selectmen meeting, that the Town eliminate these wires by burying them below ground in front of the Observatory or find another approach that will not impact Nantucket’s historic and scientifically significant Observatories. 

David Gagnon, Executive Director

Dr. Regina Jorgenson, Director of Astronomy

Maria Mitchell Association

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