Dark Sky Sanctuaries

Jun 15, 2020

Dark Sky Sanctuaries Provide Perfect Night Sky Views

     Did you know that if you wanted to seek out a perfect night sky to see the stars, you could visit a website and see exactly where these spots are? The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) lists all the places in the world that have been certified to have environmentally friendly lighting and educational opportunities to learn more about night sky.  There are a total of six different types of designations, ranging from dark-sky communities to the most remote and darkest places in the world to observe the sky. 

     I remember the first time I saw the night sky on the island of Hawai’i.  It honestly was a life-changing experience for me.  I was taking a 3-week intensive college class in January of 2001 on Volcanology and Geomorphology of the Hawaiian Islands.  In other words, I was studying how the Hawaiian Islands came to be and how they have changed (and would change) over the course of time from a geological perspective.  Hawai’i in itself is an incredibly beautiful place, but the night sky there is really something to behold.  The first night we stayed in Hilo, and I was surprised with how many stars I could see.  I grew up in a suburban landscape being only 10 minutes away from the bright lights of the city.  Hawai’i is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean away from most sources of light pollution. However, depending on where you are on the islands, you may not have the opportunity to see a perfect sky. For example, many of my students that live on Oahu struggle to see the stars when I have them complete their nighttime observations.  

     As our college class continued, I had the opportunity on one of our days off to visit Mauna Kea at night.  Mauna Kea is one of the premier places in the world to observe the night sky. That is why there are telescopes on the top of the mountain at over 13,000 feet. The climate is perfect for scientific observations to happen most of the year.  When I visited, we went to the Visitor’s Information Station that is located three quarters of the way up at the mountain at 9,200 feet. It was the first time I saw the Milky Way Galaxy in the sky, and it definitely was the most amount of stars I’ve ever seen in the sky at that point in my life. At that moment I said to myself, “I’ll be back.”

     My hope is that everyone has the opportunity to see a perfect night sky like I did at some point in their lifetime.  So how do you find a place that is free from light pollution? The answer comes from the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). The IDA’s mission is to ‘preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting’. They advocate for the protection of the night skies by working with city planners, legislators, and the public with educating them on how to preserve the night sky. As the human population continues to rise, light pollution increases and it can be a challenge to see stars. The IDA sets certain dark sky standards for community, parks, reserves and sanctuaries. There is a list on their website of all the places in the world that meet these specific criteria.  These are the areas you want to seek out if you live in an area with lots of light pollution. 

     If you are planning a trip to view the stars, it is always a good idea to check the moon calendar.  The best times to view the stars are when the moon is absent.  Plan your visit during the new moon phase so your view of the stars is not hindered by bright moonlight. I wish you luck planning your stargazing adventure!

Source: International Dark-Sky Association: https://www.darksky.org/

HR Diagram Explained - Star Color, Temperature and Luminosity

Oct 29, 2022

Autumn Equinox Explained

Sep 17, 2022

Corona Australis the Southern Crown Constellation

Sep 10, 2022