Lights in the Dark

Astrofest 2013. © Ljubaznošću: Gregor Kervina

Every year the Višnjan Observatory in Višnjan aka Visignano, Istria hosts a summer solstice Astrofest. Like Astrofests around the world, Istria’s Astrofest 2020 is cancelled because of  the coronavirus pandemic. Visnjan’s Astrofest has a lot in common with other solstice celebrations. People gather to share food, dancing, music, bonfires—and in Višnjan—nighttime stargazing. At Višnjan’s Astrofest, astronomy enthusiasts, tourists, local families and  children learn about the night sky and stories about fairies, elves and other mythical creatures who appear on shortest night of  the year. A sunrise drum circle welcomes summer.   

Pagans spent a lot of time looking to the stars for explanations about the way the world works. Fire was important to Pagans who associated it with the sun and with purification. Christians later combined Pagan and old Slavic rituals with solstice celebrations around St. John the Baptist feast day–June 23, 24 and/or 25. At Višnjan near earth astronomy and other sciences are studied alongside an old Christian church and an imposing, if unverified druidic stone circle. Ironically for Višjnan’s Astrofest, winter, spring and fall are better than summer for stargazing because less moisture in the air makes stars more visible.

Croatian astronomer, educator and founder of the Višnjan Observatory Korado Korlević is largely responsible for making science the focus of Višnjan’s Astrofest. Korlević directs acclaimed educational programs for children and young people at the Višnjan Observatory Education Center  http://en.astro.hr Korlevič and his team run a Science Summer School and workshops. The discovery of over 1,000 asteroids, small planets and comets at the Višnjan Observatory are attributed to him.  Because of Korlević’s accomplishments as an asteroid tracer a celestial body was named Korado. He recently won an award for exemplary teaching.*

A new observatory was built and a metric telescope named Dagor was installed on Tičan Hill, 3 kilometers north of Višjnan in 2002. The reason? Light pollution.  Areas in Europe and all over the world have recently designated dark-sky areas. Last year the protected forested Petrova Gora-Biljeg  along border of Bosnia Herzegovina became a Dark-Sky Park. I imagine people congregating in small groups to gaze at and interpret the stars. Maybe the meaning of the summer solstice this year is to bring science, spirituality and story together in new ways.   The spirit of Astrofest at Višjnan reminds us to stop and wonder how life on our planet, in our universe, fit together.

* For more about Korlević https://digitaltakeover.hr/en/speaker/korado-korlevic/ and https://www.timeout.com/croatia/attractions/korado-korlevic-searching-for-stars

Published by marielscatena

Curious about the ways place shapes experience. Grateful for people who share their time, hopes and dreams with me. Inspired by stories that bring light and love into the world.

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