Save our Skies : Loines Observatory

UPDATE 12/9/16 at 2:38 PM

Thank you everyone for your continued support to protect our skies. We have been in contact with the Town Administration who has released the following positive note:

Town Administration would like to assure the community, Maria Mitchell Association, and lovers of open skies around the world that the Town of Nantucket is working to resolve the situation at Loines Observatory so that we maintain the unobstructed views for visitors and researchers that existed prior to the installation of the new poles. At the December 7th Board of Selectmen meeting, the Board decided to move ahead with the bike path project as it was already under construction.  The Board also agreed to work with the utility companies to find a solution. The lines of communication between the town and the Maria Mitchell Association are open. We are actively working to determine cost and quick time frames to either reduce the height of the poles or place the wires underground.

Elizabeth Gibson
Town Manager
Town of Nantucket
(508) 228-7255

CALL TO ACTION 12/8/16 at 5:00 PM

Sign petition here 

Dear Members and Friends of the Maria Mitchell Association:

I wanted to take this opportunity to inform you of an issue that is directly impacting the Maria Mitchell Association and our landmark Observatories.  The Town of Nantucket is currently installing a bike path on Milk Street, which of course, we support.  However, in order to install the bike path, the Town decided to move the utility poles to the north side of the street, directly adjacent to the Maria Mitchell Association’s Loines Observatory.  In addition to moving the pole location closer to the Observatory, we also just learned that the newly installed poles are much taller than the existing poles.  The combination of closer and taller poles and wires means that the view of the night sky from Loines Observatory will be significantly impacted, both for our visitors and research astronomers alike.  Particularly disturbing is the fact that this will affect our views of the southern sky, which contains the ecliptic – the apparent path of the Sun, Moon, and planets in the sky – as well as the direction towards the center of our own Milky Way Galaxy.  Not only will the new poles and wires obstruct our visitors’ views of the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, and Mars, but also, it will essentially end our capability to perform research in that part of the sky.

Once we became aware of this critical issue, the MMA immediately sent a letter to the Board of Selectman, Town Planner, and the Nantucket Historical Commission.  We presented testimony last night at the Board of Selectman meeting and implored them to rectify this problem with a solution that would not impact our viewing and research.  Although the Board expressed concern and said they would ask various experts for alternatives, they also suggested that perhaps MMA could pay to have the lines moved underground.  Obviously, this is wholly unacceptable.  I have heard estimates of $100,000 to $1,000,000.  Our resources must be dedicated to providing science education and research opportunities to the children and adults on Nantucket, as well as our curious visitors. Paying to install utilities because of bad information and a lack of consideration for one of Nantucket’s cultural, scientific, and historic landmarks is not acceptable.

Obviously MMA will do everything we can to have the poles and wires moved to ensure an unimpeded view of the night sky and to secure the legacy of Maria Mitchell and the great scientists who followed in her footsteps.  Future generations of astronomers should not have to modify their research interests because of wires thoughtlessly installed in 2016.  Future generations of visitors to our immensely popular Open Nights at the Observatory should not be told that their view of Saturn or Mars is obstructed because of wires installed by the Town without consideration of the legacy of our scientific and educational institution.

Although the MMA will work diligently to save our clear view of the sky, we need our members and supporter’s help.   As you are likely aware, Maria believed in and fought for women’s access to the practice of science in a time when it was generally denied.  Let us not now stand by and watch as a precious resource – our access to the night sky – is taken away by careless planning.  Please e-mail and/or call  the Nantucket selectmen and ask them to find a solution that makes our sky whole again and allows a clear view of the planets and stars for generations to come.  Tell them about your experiences at the Observatory.  Time is of the essence!


Board of Selectman contact information:

Matt Fee:

Bob DeCosta:

Rick Atherton:

Dawn E. Hill Holdgate:

Jim Kelly:

Deborah Timmermann (Nantucket Historical Commission):

Libby Gibson (Town Manger):

Town Office number: 508-228-7255

Of course, your own words are usually best but feel free to use this text if you would like:

“As a long term supporter of science research and education on Nantucket and the Maria Mitchell Association’s Loines Observatories, I urge you to look for a solution that will eliminate the significant impact that the new poles and wires will have on astronomical research and viewing of the night sky from the Loines  Observatory.”

Inquirer and Mirror Article 

December 8, 2016