Lights Out: 5 new “dark places” for premium stargazing

Vast expanses of twinkling stars. Pristine views of the night sky. And no glare to blur the Milky Way.

These are the characteristics that define what are known as dark sky locations. As of this week, 187 such sites in 21 countries, including national parks, isolated sanctuaries and nature reserves, have been determined to respond to the International Starry Sky Associationfor the designation: “a land of exceptional quality or distinguished from starry nights”.

The group, based in Tucson, Arizona, grants the certifications as part of its mission to restore the night skies to their natural state. It has certified 30 new dark sky locations so far in 2021, with a few more planned before the end of the year, according to Ashley Wilson, the association’s director of conservation.

To help reduce light pollution – annoying artificial light that obscures the view of stars and planets – the group suggests simple changes, such as tilting exterior lights down to limit disturbance to nocturnal wildlife.

“Each location in the dark sky acts as an important vehicle for conveying messages about the importance of dark skies and quality outdoor lighting to a wider audience, especially people who live in cities,” said Wilson. in an email.

All protected public lands as well as private lands that provide night access are eligible for certification.

Ms Wilson said the sites “must demonstrate that the Milky Way is easily visible to the naked eye” and that “no nearby artificial light source produces significant glare.”

Here are five sites that have recently received dark sky designations.

Kentucky

With nearly 53,000 acres, this southern Kentucky national park is known for its labyrinth of caves and lush forests. Last week it became an official Dark Sky Park.

“We hope this designation will encourage the public to appreciate not only the vastness of the miles of deep underground passages in Mammoth Cave, but also the beauty of the night sky above the park,” said Barclay C. Trimble, director of Mammoth Cave. Park. in a declaration.

The certification involved evaluating more than 700 outdoor luminaires and modernizing the luminaires to make them compatible with the starry sky. The park, the first site operated by the National Park Service to receive the designation, was also to show its commitment to promoting the benefits of dark skies to the public.

West Virginia

In October, Watoga State Park in West Virginia received its starry sky status as well as Calvin Price State Forest and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park.

The three zones, which collectively encompass 19,800 acres of public land in southern West Virginia, were the first places in the state to receive dark sky designations.

In 2018, the Watoga State Park Foundation began seeking certification. Two board members won a grant to replace the park’s lighting fixtures and worked with volunteer astronomers to measure the quality of the park’s night sky for a year.

John Goodwin, the president of the foundation, said in a declaration that “our many sensitive animal species will live and thrive in their usual darkness, just like their ancestors, free from artificial light pollution”.

In August, the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in Texas has been named a Dark Sky Sanctuary.

In the nomenclature of the association, a black sky shrine is “generally located in a very remote location with little (if any) nearby threats to the quality of its dark night sky.” They are even further away – and usually darker – than parks or dark sky preserves.

Black Gap, which covers approximately 103,000 acres with little development, is located in the rugged Trans-Pecos region of West Texas.

Black Gap is the second property managed by a state park to receive sanctuary status. (The Devils River State Natural Area was certified in 2019.) Additionally, Texas has four Dark Sky Parks.

Maine

In May, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Woods property became New England’s first dark-sky park.

The area, which offers a clear view of the dark sky, is one of the darkest places on the east coast, which has significant light pollution, experts say.

The Dark Sky Park sits at the edge of the woods of northern Maine, an area of ​​5,400 square miles of largely uninhabited forest stretching from Monson, Maine, Canada.

“We hope this designation will draw more attention to the value of this natural resource as well as its regional scarcity,” said Ruskin Hartley, Executive Director of the International Dark-Sky Association, upon designation.

Arizona

The nearly 100-year-old national monument in southeastern Arizona was named a Dark Sky Park in April.

The association said the monument “protects some of the darkest night skies in the American Southwest.”

Known for its impending rock pinnacles or ‘standing rocks’, the park has been described as a heavenly island due to the secluded mountain range above the surrounding prairie sea.

The “geographic isolation” of the park from the main metropolitan areas offers “excellent natural protection against light pollution and sky glow”, the association of the dark sky said in april, describing the quality of the park’s night sky as “almost pristine at its zenith”.


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