Can you remember the last time you looked up at a starry night sky? How about the last time you looked up at the Milky Way from your backyard? Chances are, if you live in a metropolitan city or even suburbia, you don’t get to see much of a view. Today, many areas of the dark sky are polluted by artificial lighting and most of us have to drive hundreds of miles to a dark, secluded area to experience a dark sky.
We both feel very lucky to have been able to sit under a dark sky and gaze up at the stars. If you’ve ever done it, maybe you’ll agree – it’s a special memory. When we’re camping or backpacking, we always look forward to the time when we get to set up camp, wash up, slip into our sleeping bags, and look up at the sky. The dark sky has always contributed to our sense of wonder and feelings of being “small” in this big, endless universe. Even on road trips, during the dead of night, we feel the same sense of excitement when we see a shooting star fly across the sky. Once, we even saw a comet (we think!). It was a green ball that shot down from the sky before disappearing in the distance. Experiences like these remind us of how lucky we are to be in the outdoors and take pleasure in the moments nature offers.
Apart from our sense of wonder, we owe our health, the balance of the ecosystem, and fundamental research to the dark sky. All living thing things rely on the dark sky to keep our internal clock in balance. Without it, our sleep is disrupted; leading to sleep deprivation and normal functionality. Animals need the dark sky to preserve survival behaviors such as sleep and reproduction, and for protection from predators. Explorers use the night sky to discover and study new stars, in addition to learning more about humankind and life on Earth. Have you ever walked by a building after hours and noticed it is fully lit? Economically, unnecessary outdoor lighting leads to wasted energy and money too.
Where Can We Find a Dark Sky Today?
Artificial lighting has obscured the dark sky in many urban areas of the world. Luckily, there’s the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a leading organization dedicated to combating light pollution. Public and private places must meet strict requirements to be IDA certified and receive an official IDA seal of approval. Certified dark skies are Dark Sky Communities, Dark Sky Parks, Dark Sky Reserves, and Dark Sky Sanctuaries. The NPS website lists 18 certified Dark Sky Parks in the US. Other great news: central Idaho recently became America’s First Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Reserve. A promising step in the right direction to preserving the dark sky!
Here’s How We Can Help the IDA Protect the Dark Sky
Some of this information is taken from the IDA website (as of 03/03/2018), but we listed them here for your convenience.
- Make a donation to organizations and communities working to preserve the dark sky.
- Educate your community on the importance of the dark sky and encourage night sky appreciation events.
- Encourage your city to adopt dark-friendly or IDA-certified light fixtures.
- Participate during Earth Hour or International Dark Sky Week to bring awareness.
- Become a citizen scientist through these organizations or using these apps: Globe at Night, Cities at Night, Dark Sky Meter app, and Loss of the Night app.
- Attend a “star party” and learn from passionate amateur astronomers about the night sky. Do a quick Google search to find a star party near you. They’re really fun!
You can learn more about becoming a dark sky place here.
Have you ever experienced a dark sky? Mind sharing the importance of the dark sky with your friends? We need all the help we can get to protect the dark sky for generations to come.
Jennifer and Vivian
Featured photo – Yellowstone National Park. Milky Way and Lodgepole Pines. NPS photo by Neal Herbert. Second photo – Yellowstone National Park. Exploring the boardwalks at night carrying bear spray. NPS photo by Jacob W. Frank.