Seeking the Natural Night
“Light what you need, when you need it.” The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) spreads this simple message to promote awareness and ultimately reduction of light pollution. Some people may feel light pollution is not in league with pressing environmental problems like air and water pollution, but it should not be taken lightly. Light pollution decreases our quality of life by depriving us of the natural night sky. It has the potential to disrupt humans’ natural body rhythms, cause harm to wildlife, and disrupt nocturnal animals’ activities. Furthermore, light pollution wastes energy and money through excessive brightness of lights and misdirected light paths (scattered and stray light).
The IDA among other organizations works to preserve the natural night and protect it against light pollution. As an acknowledged international authority on light pollution, their work extends to sixteen countries around the world. They have given several Dark Sky category awards to exceptional places which has preserved the natural night skies in their areas. Their Dark Sky Destinations article lists choice spots around the world where the heritage of dark skies are preserved. Dark Sky destinations include:
Observatories Night skies unpolluted with stray light and sky glow are especially important to observatories.Flagstaff,Arizona was the first International Dark Sky Community. Here the US Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station discovered Charon, Pluto’s satellite in 1978. Most observatories also offer educational tours and activities for visitors. Check the Dark Sky Destinations article for their list of observatories in the US.
National Parks Even natural settings in national parks would not be complete without clear night skies untainted by excessive artificial light. Several national parks in theUS have been awarded Dark Sky designations. These include Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and Yosemite National Park among many others.
Communities Towns and cities which have been designated as Dark Sky Communities not only possess clear night skies free from light pollution, but maintain them through community efforts. Professional and amateur astronomers alike seek these places for a clear view of the natural night skies. IDA lists Dark Sky Communities in the US, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Scotland, and Ireland among others.
Reserves Acknowledged by the IDA itself as the epitome of its work, International Dark Sky Reserves protect central core areas with excellent views of the night sky. Usually these are core areas surrounded by buffer zones to further protect against faint light pollution coming from far away. One example of an IDA reserve is the Exmoor National park in Devon and Somerset Counties,England.
IDA has also awarded the first Dark Sky Island status to Sark Island in 2011. Sark is the first inhabited island in Europe to be given this status, making it a Dark Sky Community as well. Incidentally, the island is also a car-free zone due to its long standing ban on cars. For more Dark Sky destinations, see the complete list at the IDA website.
Clear, natural night skies have served as a source of inspiration and wonder for all human generations. Like other natural resources, it should be protected and preserved not only for our enjoyment but for future generations’ as well.
Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Sarah G… on Flickr.
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