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Museum, local cancer group host Fourth Annual Planet Head Day

The Northern Maine Museum of Science and Aroostook C.A.N.C.E.R. will be taking a stand against some of the worst things that fate hands out – bitter, cold weather; loss of hair; and Cancer – when it hosts the Fourth Annual Planet Head Day on Saturday, Feb. 27 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Gentile Hall, and everyone is invited to attend.

Since 2007, Planet Head Day has been held to increase awareness of NASA’s mission to Pluto and to serve as a fundraiser for the local organization C.A.N.C.E.R [Caring Area Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery]. Each year, participants from Maine and Canada have donned theatrical bald caps or had their hair shaved off, and then had their heads painted to look like planets, moons, asteroids and comets.

“The purpose of this event is to provide science education while acknowledging our friends and neighbors who are fighting cancer,” Kevin McCartney, museum director and one of the event’s organizers, said.

Many of the participants have a close personal relationship with cancer. McCartney’s father died of cancer last year and project co-organizer Jeanie McGowan is a cancer survivor. In fact, it was McGowan that inspired Planet Head Day.

The Northern Maine Museum of Science was looking for a unique way to celebrate the discovery of Pluto (Feb. 18, 1930), increase awareness of its Maine Solar System Model – which stretches from UMPI to Topsfield and is the largest model of its kind in the Western Hemisphere – and get people excited about NASA’s mission to Pluto. At the time, McGowan was battling breast cancer and was bald because of chemotherapy treatments, and, as McCartney put it, an idea was born.

This year is the 80th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto and organizers are celebrating accordingly. Planet Head Day participants will have many photographs of planets and moons to choose from when selecting how they want their scalp to look. Barber Patrick Coughlin of Parsons Street Barbershop, three hairdressers from the local beauty salon Great Beginnings, and an assemblage of planet head painters will be available for the occasion.

In addition to the traditional “Planet Head” effort, this year, participants will have the opportunity to take part in healthy activities in support of C.A.N.C.E.R. Individuals can participate in hoop shooting, swimming relays, and laps around the elevated track in between planet head-painting and learning more about the C.A.N.C.E.R. organization.

“Again this year, we are pleased to be a part of Planet Head Day,” Craig Green, C.A.N.C.E.R. treasurer, said. “As the economy continues to suffer and as travel costs have continued to increase, we have had more requests for assistance for travel funds. Partnership projects like this will help us to shine a light on these needs while creating a stream of revenue to assist them. We thank the organizers and UMPI for their support and continued interest in people with cancer here in Aroostook County.”

The event also serves as an important science education opportunity. The Northern Maine Museum of Science is an educational outreach participant in New Horizons, the NASA mission that, in January 2006, launched a spacecraft that is scheduled to reach Pluto in July 2015. The New Horizons spacecraft has nearly reached the halfway point of its journey to Pluto. The spacecraft passed the orbit of Saturn nearly two years ago and is about a year from passing the orbit of Uranus. Related exhibits and educational materials will be on display in the Gentile Hall lobby.

“We’re teaching kids and families and members of the community about the solar system and the exciting things NASA is doing, and at the same time, we’re raising money and awareness for cancer,” McCartney said. “Other regions have polar bear swims, where participants swim in icy lakes in the middle of winter as a way of showing contempt for winter, but then they dry themselves off and put their clothes back on. We take off our hair in the middle of winter – and there’s no putting that back on again – and do it for an extremely worthwhile cause.”

As it has for every Planet Head Day so far, Pizza Hut will be contributing pizza for the event. Beverages and a “Happy Birthday, Pluto” cake also will be served.

For more information about this event, contact Kevin McCartney at 768-9482, Jeanie McGowan at 768-9747, Sue Nickerson at 764-6826, or Craig Green at 762-6500. Anyone wishing to help paint planets should contact Jeanie McGowan. Donations to C.A.N.C.E.R. can be sent to P.O. Box 811, Presque Isle, ME 04769, or delivered during Planet Head Day.