The IDA adopted new Dark Sky Park designation requirements in June 2018 that not only specified a new minimum Sky Quality Meter (SQM) reading at the zenith of 21.2 magnitudes per square arcsecond or better, but additionally required any artificial light domes on the horizon to be “dim, restricted in extent, and close to the horizon.” So far, the only agency and process that has been able to show or measure this reliably has been the National Park Service using a complex and expensive data reduction scheme and high resolution camera system to map the whole night sky at current and proposed NPS dark sky sites. The complexity and expense of this system has been a significant constraint to making valid and reliable evaluations at non-NPS sites.
Bob Yoesle (recipient of an IDA 2015 Dark Sky Defender Award) and Micheal McKeag (IDA Oregon Delegate), amateur astronomers, dark sky advocates, and members of the Rose City Astronomers in Portland Oregon, have been working on devising a methodology for standardizing the process of assessment with simpler, more readily available and less expensive equipment and methods. This is needed for ongoing assessment of the scenic impacts of light pollution in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, as well as proposed dark sky sites and communities both in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.
Mike has used a high-quality wide-angle “fisheye” lens to do whole sky DSLR imagery, combined with Uniheadron SQM readings made on an alt-azimuth computer-controlled telescope mount. Unfortunately, due to the wide field of view of the SQM device, this has proved unsatisfactory for light dome measurements along the horizon:
Until a narrower angle SQM with a field of sensitivity which will allow higher resolution and substantial enough improvements to be used in mapping horizon light domes comes along, Bob has devised and proposed a photographic methodology that directly compares light dome brightness to the brightness of the Milky Way, whose visibility is a key feature and requirement of any dark sky location.
All that is required for this methodology is a fisheye lens all-sky imaging system of good quality. But you don't need a dedicated camera system - Bob used a sturdy photo tripod, DSLR camera, and one of the least expensive fisheye lenses available. The only other requirements are a digital photo processing program such as Photshop, Paint Shop Pro, etc. that allows histogram adjustment, and a planetarium program which is able to show azimuth and altitude angles of indicator stars above the horizon.
This procedure is simple and affordable enough for amateurs astronomers and photo enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels to perform with minimal experience.
The first thing to do is to take a picture that sufficiently exposes the night sky enough to capture the Milky Way:
This image is then converted to a black and white “greyscale” image:
The image histogram is then adjusted to stretch midtones and suppress/eliminate the shadows and highlight regions of the image. This makes any light pollution much more evident and also enhances the brightness of the Milky Way to give a good set of comparison levels of brightness:
Using modified histogram settings to make adjustments to the image can highlight both the Milky Way and the extent of light pollution domes. This qualitative process requires different settings for varying exposures, yet appears to be a useful tool in extracting the true extent of artificial sky glow compared to the original image.
Depending on the dynamics of the image, a negative image can sometimes provide better contrast to make the extent of faint levels of light more evident (our eyes often work better with black stars on a white background verus the opposite):
One of the limitations of using a wide angle fisheye lens for all sky imaging is the distortion and foreshortening of features which occurs near the horizon:
Using a planetarium program such as Stellarium (a free download), one can easily judge the extent of artificial brightness along the horizon and how far such artificial brightness reaches into the sky:
A qualitative exam of light dome extent. The unlabeled arrow points to β1 Sco at the top of the three pincer stars of Scorpius, arrow 1 lies between δ and ε Oph, and arrow 2 lies between α and ε Ser. These areas represent areas similar in brightness to the Milky Way going from the brightest to the dimmest discernible areas in the image. In this case we can see the altitude above the horizon for these parts of the light dome ~ 25, 40, and 50 degrees respectively:
Around the new moon, a series of these images can be taken over a period of hours, days, or months to get a more valid sample of the site’s overall night sky quality. When combined with concurrent zenith SQM readings, the reliability of such a methodology can be readily established. Bob suggests use of a nearby Clear Sky Chart location or similar application prior to an imaging run to establish the general conditions locally under which the data and images are obtained:
The IDA has responded favorably to this methodology for future dark sky site evaluations. Dark Sky Defenders welcomes contributions and refinements others may come up with to enhance or improve upon this methodology. Please use the Contact Page to send us your input and suggestions.
Written by Ryann Richards on June 18, 2019
Photo by Mark Basarab
ST. GEORGE — Residents in Ivins are coming together to find creative solutions to light pollution.
The Ivins Night Sky Initiative was founded in January with hopes to “improve, preserve, and protect the night sky over Ivins,” according to its website.
Director Mike Scott said the organization and Ivins residents are seeking to modify an outdoor lighting ordinance due to its outdated nature. The ordinance is about 12 years old.
They are looking to reduce the color temperature of outdoor lighting to soften the “harsh white light” and reduce blue light emissions, he said.
Reducing blue light will not only decrease sky glow and light pollution, but it will also benefit the safety of the community as it will reduce glare. Scott said the change will also protect residents’ health as recent studies have found that blue light contributes to a number of adverse health effects, including greater risk of heart disease, some cancers and permanent eye damage.
While the city of Ivins waits for the proposed changes to make their way through local government, residents are making their own, temporary solutions to current light pollution concerns.
The goal of the do-it-yourself solutions is to aim the light in a more effective manner while limiting the effect that “stray light” has on the night sky, Scott said. This can be accomplished by focusing the light into a downward beam and limiting blue light.
“We’re not trying to reduce outdoor lighting, exactly,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is just make sure that it aims the light where we really want it to go.”
One resident used red Solo cups to aim the beam of light more downward and block any upward light from shooting into the sky. Eagle Rock, a subdivision with about 90 homes, changed the lights outside of garages to focus the light downward.
Scott said most outdoor lighting in the future is going to consist of LED bulbs, which are efficient and economically friendly, but LEDs include quite a bit of blue light. Ivins has been getting the best of both worlds by using LED lights with an amber filter.
“So you get rid of the harmful potential health risk and safety problems,” he said.
Ivins was cognizant of the night sky when drafting the ordinance a dozen years ago, Scott said, but the technology has changed and the city is growing almost as rapidly as St. George. He said Ivins is projected to double in size over the next 20 years.
With this in mind, the Ivins Dark Sky Initiative is looking to impact the present in order to start on the best foot for the future.
“We are going to grow,” Scott said. “We are going to need a lot more outdoor lighting, so let’s just make sure it’s the best kind of lighting we can possibly have.”
The organization now has about 25 volunteers who work to educate people about light pollution and the harmful effects of blue light. It is working with the International Dark Sky Association and is hoping to have Ivins named as a “Dark Sky Community” within the next year.
In order for Ivins to be considered for the designation the city must meet a set of requirements, including a lighting policy that covers shielded lamp posts and blue light restrictions and the opportunity for education and community outreach.
Ivins City Council will consider the lighting design and construction plans for outdoor lighting at its meeting on June 20 at 5:30 p.m. at Ivins City Hall.
St. George News
The In-Depth April National Geographic Story on how light pollution is generally getting worse can be found HERE. With the proposed release of thousands of near Earth orbit SpaceX "Starlink" satellites, astronomers and dark sky advocates fear the worst, but are hoping for the best.
Statement from the International Dark-Sky Association
Tucson, AZ – On May 23, 2019, the spacecraft company, SpaceX launched a group of sixty satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO). Due to their reflective solar panels and other metal surfaces, the satellites are visible to the naked eye at night. In the days since they were launched, sightings have been reported all around the world. The visibility of the satellites, combined with a rapid increase in the number of satellites in LEO has caused concern in the astronomy and stargazing communities. Questions about the impact of this newly deployed technology are rippling through the natural nighttime conservation network.
To date, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has already approved the operation of more than 7,000 SpaceX satellites in low Earth orbit. At least three other companies have expressed interest in launching large groups of similar new satellites, which are intended to provide reliable broadband internet service to people all over the world. These plans could easily lead to tens of thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit.
The rapid increase in the number of satellite groups poses an emerging threat to the natural nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies, which the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has worked to protect since 1988. We do not yet understand the impact of thousands of these visible satellites scattered across the night sky on nocturnal wildlife, human heritage, or our collective ability to study the cosmos.
Some early reports have caused concern. James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College, was training undergraduate students for a summer astronomy outreach internship in New Hampshire when the SpaceX satellite grouping crossed their path in the night sky. “We were gathered around the telescope when one of them shouted, ‘WHAT is THAT?’” he tells IDA. Lowenthal calls the satellites a “shocking and devastating sight.”
The number of low Earth orbit satellites planned to launch in the next half-decade has the potential to fundamentally shift the nature of our experience of the night sky. IDA is concerned about the impacts of further development and regulatory launch approval of these satellites. We therefore urge all parties to take precautionary efforts to protect the unaltered nighttime environment before deployment of new, large-scale satellite groups.
SpaceX Satellites Pose New Headache For Astronomers
Issam Ahmed, Physics.org
It looked like a scene from a sci-fi blockbuster: an astronomer in the Netherlands captured footage of a train of brightly-lit SpaceX satellites ascending through the night sky this weekend, stunning space enthusiasts across the globe.
But the sight has also provoked an outcry among astronomers who say the constellation, which so far consists of 60 broadband-beaming satellites but could one day grow to as many as 12,000, may threaten our view of the cosmos and deal a blow to scientific discovery.
The launch was tracked around the world and it soon became clear that the satellites were visible to the naked eye: a new headache for researchers who already have to find workarounds to deal with objects cluttering their images of deep space.
"People were making extrapolations that if many of the satellites in these new mega-constellations had that kind of steady brightness, then in 20 years or less, for a good part the night anywhere in the world, the human eye would see more satellites than stars," Bill Keel, an astronomer at the University of Alabama, told AFP.
The satellites' brightness has since diminished as their orientation has stabilized and they have continued their ascent to their final orbit at an altitude of 550 kilometers (340 miles).
But that has not entirely allayed the concerns of scientists, who are worried about what happens next.
Elon Musk's SpaceX is just one of a several companies looking to enter the fledgling space internet sector.
To put that into context, there are currently 2,100 active satellites orbiting our planet, according to the Satellite Industry Association.
If another 12,000 are added by SpaceX alone, "it will be hundreds above the horizon at any given time," Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told AFP, adding that the problem would be exacerbated at certain times of the year and certain points in the night.
"So, it'll certainly be dramatic in the night sky if you're far away from the city and you have a nice, dark area; and it'll definitely cause problems for some kinds of professional astronomical observation."
Musk's puzzling response
The mercurial Musk responded to the debate on Twitter with contradictory messages, pledging to look into ways to reduce the satellites' reflectivity but also saying they would have "0% impact on advancements in astronomy" and that telescopes should be moved into space anyway.
He also argued the work of giving "billions of economically disadvantaged people" high-speed internet access through his network "is the greater good."
Keel said he was happy that Musk had offered to look at ways to reduce the reflectivity of future satellites, but questioned why the issue had not been addressed before.
If optical astronomers are concerned, then their radio astronomy colleagues, who rely on the electromagnetic waves emitted by celestial objects to examine phenomena such as the first image of the black hole discovered last month, are "in near despair," he added.
Satellite operators are notorious for not doing enough to shield their "side emissions," which can interfere with the observation bands that radio astronomers are looking out for.
"There's every reason to join our radio astronomy colleagues in calling for a 'before' response," said Keel.
"It's not just safeguarding our professional interests but, as far as possible, protecting the night sky for humanity."
Lights In The Sky From Elon Musk's New Satellite Network Have Stargazers Worried
Michael J. I. Brown, The Conversation
UFOs over Cairns. Lights over Leiden. Glints above Seattle. What's going on?
The launch of 60 Starlink satellites by Elon Musk's SpaceX has grabbed the attention of people around the globe. The satellites are part of a fleet that is intended to provide fast internet across the world.
Improved internet services sound great, and Musk is reported to be planning for up to 12,000 satellites in low Earth orbit. But this fleet of satellites could forever change our view of the heavens.
Starlink's ambitious mission
Starlink is an ambitious plan to use satellites in low Earth orbit (about 500km up) to provide global internet services.
This is different from the approach previously used for most communication satellites, in which larger individual satellites were placed in high geosynchronous orbits—that stay in an apparently fixed position above the Equator (about 36,000km up).
Communications with satellites in geosynchronous orbits often require satellite dishes, which you can see on the sides of residential apartment buildings. Communication with satellites in low Earth orbit, which are much closer, won't require such bulky equipment.
But the catch with satellites in low Earth orbit, which move quickly around the world, is they can only look down on a small fraction of the globe, so to get global coverage you need many satellites. The Iridium satellite network used this approach in the 1990s, using dozens of satellites to provide global phone and data services.
Starlink is far more ambitious, with 1,600 satellites in the first phase, increasing to 12,000 satellites during the mid-2020s. For comparison, there are roughly 18,000 objects in Earth orbit that are tracked, including about 2,000 functioning satellites.
Starlink satellites travel silently across the skies of Leiden.
Lights in the sky
It's not unusual to see satellites travelling across the twilight sky. Indeed, there's a certain thrill to seeing the International Space Station pass overhead, and to know there are people living on board that distant light. But Starlink is something else.
The first 60 satellites, launched by SpaceX last week, were seen travelling in procession across the night sky. Some people knew what they were seeing, but the silent procession of light also generated UFO reports. If you're lucky, you may see them pass across your skies tonight.
If the full constellation of satellites is launched, hundreds of Starlink satellites will be above the horizon at any given time. If they are visible to the unaided eye, as suggested by initial reports, they could outnumber the brightest natural stars visible to the unaided eye.
Astronomers' fears were not put to rest by Musk's tweets:
Satellites are very definitely visible at night, particularly in the hours before dawn and after sunset, as they are high enough to be illuminated by the Sun. The Space Station's artificial lighting is effectively irrelevant to its visibility.
In areas near the poles, including Canada and northern Europe, satellites in low Earth orbit can be illuminated throughout the night during the summer months.
Hundreds of satellites being visible to the unaided eye would be a disaster. They would completely ruin our view of the night sky. They would also contaminate astronomical images, leaving long trails across otherwise unblemished images.
The US$466 million Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, based in Chile, is an 8-metre aperture telescope with a 3,200-megapixel camera. It's designed to rapidly survey the sky during the 2020s.
Will we lose the night sky to city lights and satellites? Credit: Jeff Sullivan, CC BY-NC-NDWith the full constellation of Starlink satellites, many images taken with this telescope will contain a Starlink satellite. Longer exposures could contain dozens of satellite streaks.
Dark skies or darkened hopes?
Is there any cause for optimism? Yes and no.
Musk has produced some amazing feats of technology, such as the SpaceX Falcon and Tesla cars, but he's also disappointed some on other projects, such as the Hyperloop tunnel transport plan.
While Starlink certainly blew up on Twitter, for now at least, Musk is 11,940 satellites short of his 12,000.
Also, initial reports may have overestimated the brightness of the Starlink satellites, with the multiple satellites closely clustered together being confused with one satellite.
While some reports have indicate binoculars are needed to see the individual satellites, they also report that Starlink satellites flare, momentarily becoming brighter than any natural star.
If the individual satellites usually are too faint to be seen with the unaided eye, that would at least preserve the natural wonder of the sky. But professional astronomers like myself may need to prepare for streaky skies ahead.
I can't say I'm looking forward to that.
Cloudy Nights contributor t image created the graphic animation below to simulate the visibility of the SpaceX satellites:
Thanks to the code written by Astronomy Live's youtube channel owner, I generated TLE's for 66 satellites in 24 orbital planes at 550km to simulate the planned first shell of Starlink satellites.
I created an animation from an arbitrary location, I chose Long Island, New York since it is near a large population.
This is if there were 1,584 Starlink satellites up and place right now, each frame is a 10 minute change in time, as can be read. Note the promise that you won't be able to see them deep into a summer night is not necessarily factual.
The satellite icons shown indicate they will be reflecting Sunlight. However, their brightness may be in the range of mag. 4- mag 10 or dimmer, depending on time/location/orientation. Flares are also not animated as the operational orientation is not yet known thus not making them predictable. Expect flares to be up to mag. 1 or brighter depending on reports so far...
Join the International Dark-Sky Association for a week of celebration, learning, and action!
2019 International Dark Sky Week is Sunday, March 31 – Sunday, April 7!
Created in 2003 by high-school student Jennifer Barlow, International Dark Sky Week has grown to become a worldwide event and a key component of Global Astronomy Month. Each year it is held in April around Astronomy Day. This year celebrations begin on Sunday, March 31, and run through Sunday April 7, 2019 (click here for resources to use during the week).
In explaining why she started the week, Barlow said, “I want people to be able to see the wonder of the night sky without the effects of light pollution. The universe is our view into our past and our vision into the future. … I want to help preserve its wonder.”
International Dark Sky Week draws attention to the problems associated with light pollution and promotes simple solutions available to mitigate it.
Also read “5 Ways to Celebrate Dark Sky Week“!
Light Pollution Matters
The nighttime environment is a crucial natural resource for all life on Earth, but the glow of uncontrolled outdoor lighting has hidden the stars, radically changing the nighttime environment.
Before the advent of electric light in the 20th century, our ancestors experienced a night sky brimming with stars that inspired science, religion, philosophy, art and literature including some of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets.
The common heritage of a natural night sky is rapidly becoming unknown to the newest generations. In fact, millions of children across the globe will never see the Milky Way from their own homes.
We are only just beginning to understand the negative repercussions of losing this natural resource. A growing body of research suggests that the loss of the natural nighttime environment is causing serious harm to human health and the environment.
For nocturnal animals in particular, the introduction of artificial light at night could very well be the most devastating change humans have made to their environment. Light pollution also has deleterious effects on other organisms such as migrating birds, sea turtle hatchlings, and insects.
Humans are not immune to the negative effects of light in their nighttime spaces. Excessive exposure to artificial light at night, particularly blue light, has been linked to increased risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes and breast cancer.
Good Lighting Doesn’t Compromise Safety & Security
There is no clear scientific evidence that increased outdoor lighting deters crime. It may make us feel safer but it does not make us safer. The truth is bad outdoor lighting can decrease safety by making victims and property easier to see.
Glare from overly bright, unshielded lighting creates shadows in which criminals can hide. It also shines directly into our eyes, constricting our pupils. This diminishes the ability of our eyes to adapt to low-light conditions and leads to poorer nighttime vision, dangerous to motorists and pedestrians alike.
Another serious side effect of light pollution is wasted energy. Wasted energy costs money, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, and compromises energy security.
What YOU Can Do
The good news is that light pollution is reversible and its solutions are immediate, simple and cost-effective. Here are a few simple things you can do to confront the problem and take back the night:
• Check around home. Shield outdoor lighting, or at least angle it downward, to minimize “light trespass” beyond your property lines. Use light only when and where needed. Motion detectors and timers can help. Use only the amount of light required for the task at hand.
• Attend or throw a star party. Many astronomy clubs and International Dark Sky Places are celebrating the week by holding public events under the stars. See our Events Calendar to find an event in your area (we update our calendar regularly, so be sure to keep checking back). If you have a dark sky related event, please let us know, so we can post it!
• Download, Watch, and Share “Losing the Dark,” a public service announcement about light pollution. It can be downloaded for free and is available in 13 languages.
• Talk to neighbors and your community. Explain that poorly shielded fixtures waste energy, produce glare and reduce visibility. Need inspiration? Check out our Get Involved page and our public outreach resources.
• Become a Citizen Scientist with GLOBE at Night or the Dark Sky Rangers and document light pollution in your neighborhood and share the results. Doing so, contributes to a global database of light pollution measurements.
• Explore Online. Join us on Facebook and Twitter (hashtag #IDSW2019).
Newport State Park is the first state park in Wisconsin designated by IDA as an International Dark Sky Park, one of just 48 parks in the world to earn the distinction.
Located at the northern tip of Door County on the western shore of Lake Michigan, Newport has a dark sky that offers excellent nighttime viewing with an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon. As a designated wilderness park, the park has minimal development beyond the park office and a picnic area with a park shelter.
“After more than 15 years, IDA International Dark Sky Places is still a program of firsts, and today is no exception,” said IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend. “Newport’s entry into the IDA family of International Dark Sky Parks is a welcomed development for Wisconsin and the protection of dark skies in the upper Midwest United States.”
With the designation, Newport joins the ranks of only 13 other state parks in the United States to have received IDA accreditation. “The prestigious Dark Sky Park designation opens the park to local, regional, national and international astronomical clubs and societies, increasing tourism, especially ecotourism. Obtaining this honor will accord national and international recognition to Newport State Park and the Wisconsin State Park system,” said Ben Bergey, Wisconsin State Park System director.
The idea for applying for the designation began four years ago when Ray Stonecipher, a local Door County amateur astronomer and member of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society, approached Park Superintendent Michelle Hefty about seeking the designation.
“In a modern world that is accompanied by ever increasing levels of nighttime illumination, a truly dark sky at night is rare and unique,” explained Hefty. Sensing the value of dark night skies at Newport, Hefty agreed to formally launch the certification effort.
Newport’s supporting partners for the Dark Sky Park project include the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society, the Newport Wilderness Society, the parks friends group, and a committee of dedicated volunteers. Park staff carried out the work to complete the lengthy application and will continue to ensure the park meets IDA guidelines.
“From lighting projects to community education and outreach, our commitment to protect our dark sky is a priority we take seriously,” said Beth Bartoli, a Newport State Park naturalist who helps conduct astronomy programs at the park. “We never tire of seeing that ‘aha moment’ on the upturned faces of our visitors as they gaze toward the heavens.”
The park hosted a dedication ceremony at the time an official International Dark Sky Park sign was placed in the park. The ceremony featured talks by members of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society and Newport Wilderness Society as well as local officials.
For more information about Newport State Park, visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website.
The night sky has become a tourist destination, and stargazers can enjoy it near and far, from the dry heights of Chile's Atacama Desert to monthly meetings at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
December 3, 2018
The night sky has become a tourist destination.
But wait a minute. Can’t we see the night sky simply by stepping outside after dark and looking up?
Well, yes. But for most of us, that means seeing the glow from artificial lights reflecting off clouds, water vapor and dust particles in the air. It’s called sky glow; the night sky is so bright, it’s hard to see the stars.
For most of the time people have lived on this planet, the night sky was inky dark and filled with visible celestial objects. It’s inspired poets and dreamers, artists and scientists, linking humankind with its past and perhaps its future, as people looked to the sky to ponder life’s mysteries.
It’s only been in the last 100 years or so that light and air pollution have diminished those views. And it’s only been in recent years that people have started traveling in search of what has been lost, whether it’s seeking out spots close to home in the Midwest or venturing farther afield in the Southern Hemisphere.
“We’re seeing dark-sky tourism as a reaction against our increasingly busy, tech-filled lives,” said Daniel Levine, a travel trends expert and director of the Avant-Guide Institute, a global trends consultancy. “It’s a chance to decompress, be somewhere quiet and be awed by the biggest question in life: Why are we here?”
Hoping for a dark-sky experience, myself, earlier this year, I headed to a mountain plateau west of the Andes in Chile’s Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth and a mecca for astronomers and stargazers.
I settled in at the small town of San Pedro de Atacama with plans to do some stargazing and to visit the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Better known as ALMA, it’s billed as the “most complex astronomical observatory ever built on Earth” by the U.S.-based National Radio Astronomy Observatory. In cooperation with the Chilean government, an international partnership from North America, Europe and East Asia built and operates the facility. Scientists from around the world share time on the telescopes for research.
The town is a tourist center with muted lighting and dirt streets lined with restaurants, souvenir shops and tour operators offering desert adventures. It seemed there was a stargazing operator on every block. I worked with Astronomic Tour Licanantay Observatory, a company that mixes astronomy with culture to explore the night sky and how it was interpreted by the ancient Atacameno people. (Another good option is San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations, or SPACE. Except for the days around the full moon, both companies offer nightly tours leaving from San Pedro.)
A late-night, half-hour bus ride took me out of town into the desert. After climbing out of the bus, I stopped in my tracks. It was so dark I couldn’t see the ground. But no one needed to point out the Milky Way: There it was up above, a vast streak composed of billions upon billions of stars packed so close together, it seemed as though one blended into another.
These “envoys of beauty” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) and “jewels of the night” (Henry David Thoreau) that made Vincent van Gogh paint masterpieces were on display for me in a place where the ancient Atacamenos were long-ago astronomers.
About a dozen people on our tour spent the next hour sitting on wooden benches lining a raised platform while a guide pointed out the stars, constellations and planets. He talked about the people who lived here long ago, when there were so many stars twinkling in the skies that people named the dark spaces in between them, similar to the way we name constellations. We had a telescope at our disposal for magnified viewing, but I preferred just looking up and listening to him talk. Before it was over, each of us posed for a photo with the Milky Way as a backdrop, providing a nice souvenir.
The next morning, I got a tour that was decidedly more scientific at ALMA’s Operations Support Facility, an engineering marvel open to the public Saturday and Sunday mornings. Admission is free, but it’s best to make a reservation well in advance at almaobservatory.org/en. Click on “Outreach” and “Visits.”
Perched 6,000 feet above the operations facility, the radio telescopes aren’t within view of the public, but people can see the data pouring into computers monitored by scientists. The facility has an extensive education program that can keep visitors entertained for hours.
Because most of us don’t have access to clear skies like those in the Atacama, destinations offering dark-sky experiences have become tourist attractions. It’s part of a larger trend of so-called astro tourism, according to Levine, the travel trends expert.
“We are living in a new age of space awareness,” he said. “People are looking to the skies as never before.”
Witness the crowds who traveled to see the solar eclipse in 2017, and others taking trips to experience the Northern Lights.
Even before astro tourism took off, the International Dark-Sky Association had raised the alarm that the visible night sky is a vanishing natural wonder.
Formed 30 years ago, the association has designated more than 100 locales around the world as dark-sky places, ranging from light pollution-minded suburbs like Homer Glen and the small Indiana town of Beverly Shores, where shields on street lighting keep the illumination focused downward, to dark sky parks in the Southwest U.S. and much larger reserves or sanctuaries in places such as Namibia and New Zealand. Utah has the world’s highest concentration of IDSA-certified parks, some of which offer regular stargazing events.
In northern Michigan, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City gained IDSA certification in 2011. The park includes more than 500 acres of woodlands along 2 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, as well as an events center and a guest house that can sleep 22 people. With miles of hiking trails and kid-friendly outdoor sky exhibits, it’s a great place to visit during the day. But at night, it’s for relaxing and pondering the cosmos.
The first night I was at Headlands, clouds obscured the scene, and the bugs at sunset were intense.
On our second night, the sky came alive, slowly. The first stars to show up were actually planets, Venus and Jupiter, before sunset. A midsummer night with no moon was perfect for stargazing, but the full sunset was a long time coming.
While daylight lingered, a park astronomer guided visitors to a telescope set up on a patio along the lakeshore. As the skies darkened, most folks preferred to just look up and watch as more and more stars surfaced and the pink-tinted, blue-gray sky slowly turned black.
The star show at Headlands wasn’t a match for the ideally dry skies of Chile, but for most city residents, it’s an extravaganza well worth the trip.
Not many of the official dark-sky places are close to large metropolitan areas, for obvious reasons. That’s what makes the Beverly Shores community designation special; it’s within reach of millions of people.
On the banks of Lake Michigan, across the water from Chicago, Beverly Shores is surrounded by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Just outside of town, in the parking lot for Kemil Beach, amateur astronomers share their telescopes at monthly stargazing events.
“When I was a kid, you could drive out of the city and into the darkness, but these little islands of darkness are disappearing,” said Larry Silvestri, who helps run the stargazing at Kemil Beach. “But here, 10 million people in this region can come and see the Milky Way.”
Terri Colby is a freelance writer.
The Consortium for Dark Sky Studies
The Human Heritage of Dark Skies
For many people, simply remembering the dark skies and starry nights of their youth and wanting that experience for their children and children’s children is the impetus behind their support of dark sky efforts. Until several generations ago, before urbanization and the widely available technological ability to overwhelm a landscape with lighting, the stars at night were part of the universal human experience; now an estimated 80% of the developed world is unable to see the Milky Way.
Dark Skies as Resources
A natural resource is anything that people can use which comes from nature, such as air, water, wood, oil, wind energy, iron, and coal.
Dark skies are a guilt-free natural resource: no extraction cost or risk of environmental damage by virtue of its use. And, with energy savings there is even payback for replenishing and preserving the dark skies, an unusual and distinctly virtuous cycle.
Cultural resources are, in the broadest sense, resources significant to human cultures - the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a society. Some are part of the universal human experience, like dark skies, some specific to a group of people at a particular time in history with various interpretations of the night skies. Ethno-astronomy is the study of some of these varieties of interpretation.
The human experience of a dark night is expressed in many ways, art, literature, philosophy, film, and others.
Economic resources are the factors used in providing services (like astro-tourism or dark-sky experiences) or producing goods. A dark sky is widely used as a way to develop sustainable destination economies for scenic gateway communities in the American West.
Dark Sky Consortium Studies Program Takes Shape
Written by Colter Dye
Bridging the borders of three great North American ecosystems: the Great Basin, the Colorado Plateau, and the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City is a popular destination for wildlife enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and those seeking to connect to the natural world. While snow-capped mountain peaks, vast red deserts, and tree-filled canyons are majestic, one of the most awe-inspiring views comes from glimpsing an arm of the Milky Way Galaxy against a deep blue night sky.
Maintaining a view of our dark skies has implications beyond the inspirational connection to the universe, it is also vital to the health and safety of humans and wildlife as well as our respective ecosystems, which often overlap. The new Consortium for Dark Sky Studies at the University of Utah hopes to preserve access to dark skies.
Formal recognition of the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies (CDSS) was made official by the University of Utah, a strategic location for the CDSS as Salt Lake City is central to what Stephen Goldsmith, co-director of the CDSS and associate professor of city and metropolitan planning calls the “Great Starry Way.”
“This portion of the West, basically Montana down to New Mexico, is what I would call the Great Starry Way. These are the darkest places left in the developed world – That’s on the planet, on the Earth!” remarked Goldsmith.
Many migratory birds, including thrushes, wrens, orioles, black birds, cuckoos, tanagers, and most species of sparrow, make the majority of their seasonal migrations during the nighttime hours. Species may migrate during the nighttime hours to avoid daytime predators, maximize foraging time during the day, navigate using the moon or constellations, or to prevent their bodies from overheating due to hours of wing flapping. These species now have to navigate new challenges in nighttime migration caused by the constant blaring lights emitted from human settlements.
Flocks of birds may mistake these glowing metropoles for the shining light of the moon or they may be unable to see the constellations they use to navigate because they are muted by the glowing artificial lights. Other birds seem to mistake gleaming glass windows for the surface of water reflecting moonlight. The fate of many of these birds ends with disorientation or confusion leading to missed navigational points, exhaustion, or a quick demise as they collide with buildings. Each year, in North America alone, anywhere between 365 million and 1 billion birds die from collisions with buildings.
Migrating birds are not the only wildlife affected. Many species of frogs wait for cues from the night sky and the moon to cue their breeding rituals of croaking and calling to find a mate. Nocturnal insects are fatally attracted to artificial lights, preventing them from breeding naturally and making them vulnerable to nighttime predators. On the warmer coasts of the world, baby sea turtles search for the twinkling lights of the moon and stars being reflected on the ocean, but are instead drawn toward the glowing lights of roads and cities, leading them to a certain death by car, dehydration, or predation.
Humans are also physiologically ruled by the regular pattern of night and day. Exposure to artificial light at night negatively affects the human circadian rhythm which not only affects sleep cycles but also the production of important hormones which regulate vital biological processes. These changes have been linked to depression, obesity, as well as breast and prostate cancers. While most cities have had ordinances in place for many years to regulate noise pollution, very few have paid any attention to the important consequences of light trespass and pollution.
The work of the CDSS will help to fill this gap. CDSS affiliates come from many departments of the University of Utah, as well as community, government, and industry partners. Tracy Aviary is an advisor for the CDSS.
Beginning in April of 2016, Tracy Aviary began implementing a strategic campaign to decrease light pollution in Salt Lake County, Utah, by holding a series of ‘migration moonwatch’ events to educate the public about the impact of light pollution on migrating birds. In 2017, the Aviary will expand the program to include strategic data collection on birds that strike buildings as a result of light pollution in Salt Lake’s urban core. Building off of strategies from other successful dark skies projects such as FLAP and “lights out,” the Aviary developed the Salt Lake Avian Collision Survey (SLACS), a citizen science project where volunteers will walk early morning survey routes during the migration season to search for and collect data on birds that had collided with lighted buildings overnight. Information collected by SLACS will help target photon reduction strategies and build public support for a “lights out for migration” initiative in Salt Lake.
This kind of period of decreased artificial light benefits human communities as well as birds and other wildlife. It reduces the consumption of fossil fuels that are used to power unnecessary lights, potentially saving billions of dollars and reducing pollutant emissions by many tons. It also allows humans living in urban areas to reconnect with the night sky and enjoy the Milky Way, which some people may not have seen for many years and some children may have never seen in their lives. Many communities are even using these lights out periods to host festivals celebrating the night sky, uniting divided populations, and teaching citizens about the wonders of astronomy.
With its placement on the foothills of the Wasatch Mountain Range, University of Utah’s campus is one of the only college campuses in the United States that provides a direct connection to wild, undeveloped land and the opportunity for encounters with the natural world. Our special connection to and awareness of the natural world makes our campus the ideal place to continue research on the values of reducing light pollution and implementing practices to restore dark skies to our campus and Salt Lake City.
Colter Dye is an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation through the Bachelor of University Studies program at the University of Utah. He is a Sustainability Ambassador for the Sustainability Office at the University of Utah. He is also a Conservation Science Intern at Tracy Aviary and an affiliate of the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies at the University of Utah.
UTAH'S DARK SKY PLANNING GUIDE
Community Development Office
Being designated as a Dark Sky Park requires “active participation in ongoing efforts to garner robust community support for dark sky protection” and that “participants serve as a beacon in their community for stewardship and passionate advocacy for the night sky.” After decades of non-protection, the Goldendale Observatory State Park is in even greater need of “passionate advocacy” for the safeguarding of its increasingly vulnerable night sky vistas. Washington State Parks has shown it is not up to the task.
As an amateur astronomer I thought I’d made a prudent choice to live near the small town of Goldendale, in Klickitat County, Washington. Home to a famous observatory, it had some of the country’s first lighting codes to protect the night sky, and was the sixth International Dark Sky Park awarded this prestigious designation by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). Where better in the Pacific Northwest to pursue an interest in astronomy? Unfortunately, after becoming involved with the Goldendale Observatory State Park, I learned too late about the reality of small town politics and bureaucratic mismanagement.
To persuade the amateur astronomers who built the massive telescope – and the community college that paid for it – to locate it in Goldendale, the city promised to build an Observatory to house the telescope, and adopt lighting regulations to protect it. These regulations were enacted by Goldendale and Klickitat County in 1979, but have remained largely unknown to the public, and are rarely enforced. The promise to protect the telescope’s night sky seems to have amounted to little more than a “bait and switch” to acquire the prized telescope in order to lure tourists to an economically challenged rural area.
Washington taxpayers, who purchased the Observatory in 1980, are about to spend 5.8 million dollars on the Goldendale Observatory State Park for building expansion and more parking. Although a worthy endeavor given the facility’s age, the status of the acclaimed International Dark Sky Park has been under the radar since being suspended by the IDA in late 2016. Thanks to public disclosure requests made to Washington State Parks by a local radio station, the final result of that suspension is now known.
The Goldendale Observatory was decertified by the IDA as a Dark Sky Park in September 2017 – the first and only such revocation to ever take place – and a true “black eye” for Goldendale, Klickitat County, and Washington State. Given decades of delinquency in lighting code enforcement, there has been little evidence of real dark sky protection efforts in the local community. More disturbing, the IDA found that current Goldendale Observatory State Park personnel showed virtually no appreciation for, or interest in maintaining, this coveted status, and failed to advocate for protection of the Observatory’s starry night sky. This would be surprising for a nature park or preserve which also highlights a beautiful night sky. For a publicly owned astronomical telescope that requires a dark night sky, as well as an observatory promoting itself as “famous for its dark skies,” it’s unbelievable.
Goldendale and Klickitat County promised to protect the Observatory’s night sky, but for decades neglected to implement such protection. Washington State Parks promises to provide stewardship for the State’s natural heritage for future generations, yet an observatory needing protection of its dark sky “vulnerable natural resource” – apparently doesn’t merit such stewardship. Concern for protecting increasingly rare star-filled skies – and associated ecotourism – has grown worldwide in recent years. However, given the choice between advocating for protecting the Observatory’s night sky or remaining silent, Washington State Parks, in alliance with the Goldendale Chamber of Commerce, appears completely uninterested in protecting the taxpayer’s substantial investment in an observatory of “international importance” if it means even a minor inconvenience for some in the local community who only wish to see the Observatory exploited for tourism. Just keep spending millions of taxpayer dollars directly benefiting these interests – which they seem to believe they’re entitled to without obligation – and they’ll happily allow the continued despoiling of the Observatory’s night sky.
A Dark Sky Park designation is an ongoing privilege that needs to be earned. The longstanding lack of genuine concern for the Observatory’s night sky by Goldendale and Klickitat County, combined with the Observatory’s newfound lack of real interest in protecting its “perfect for stargazing” night sky, shows they were not deserving of the prestigious honor of being home to an International Dark Sky Park. The astronomy community as well as those who truly care about protecting our increasingly threatened pristine views of the cosmos for future generations can be thankful the IDA appropriately defended the credibility of its highly esteemed Dark-Sky Places program by decertifying the Goldendale Observatory as an International Dark Sky Park.
Lessons to be learned from this about Washington State Parks:
Revealing details here.
An accomplished scientist, Carl Sagan was an outspoken and inquisitive astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astro-biologist, and environmental activist. He earned more than three degrees, was a Harvard lecturer, Cornell University professor and founder of the International Planetary Society, to list only a few of his credentials. He is remembered for his contributions to Mariner 2, the world’s first successful interplanetary spacecraft, NASA’s Viking explorations of Mars, Voyager explorations of the outer planets, and authoring hundreds of scientific papers and popular books on science and astronomy.
Many might remember him as the host of the PBS Cosmos TV series, the author of Contact, or the man who said “We’re made of star stuff.” But for some he is most notably remembered for his gift for translating scientific endeavors into the language of human emotion, and his humanitarianism and philosophical perspectives on the human condition. Sagan constantly reminded us that at the heart of technical and scientific innovation is the notion that we are all connected in our shared journey through the vast and infinite Universe.
The visible universe including planets, stars, asteroids, comets, and galaxies; is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons (“Normal Matter”) bundled as different kinds of atoms. One of the great discoveries of the twentieth centuries was to find out that all this visible matter was only 5% all matter in space. This led to the discovery of dark matter and dark energy as the other 95% of the universe.
The problem of Dark Matter was first discovered in 1937 when the astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky working at the California Institute of Technology made an argument that the universe was missing mass. While working on observations of the coma cluster (a cluster of 1000 galaxies), he was surprised to find that the average velocity of these galaxies was higher than expected. Now the speed of galaxies is supposed to mathematically predict the mass. But when Zwicky and compatriots measured the mass of the galaxies it did not equate to the high speeds. In other words, some mass was missing in these galaxies to account for the speeds measured.
Astrophysicists have continued to measure the speed of other galaxies and they too have found missing mass. Over the decades nobody has come up with an answer. But the astrophysicists began to think there is some invisible mass holding the galaxies together but in some invisible form. In recent decades science gave this invisible mass the name, “dark matter”. The implication was that a new type of matter must exist, and we just haven’t discovered or defined it yet.
In 1976 the astrophysicist Vera Rubin found that in spiral galaxies the stars out on the edge of the galaxy move faster than the closer-in stars. She found that the empty regions of space have too little visible matter to produce these high star speeds. Rubin concluded that some form of dark matter must lie in these remote regions of the galaxy to produce high star speeds. Science then concluded that “across the universe, the discrepancy averages to a factor of 6: cosmic dark matter has about six times the total gravity of all matter.”
Dark matter also exerts gravity like all ordinary matter. We know that dark matter isn’t just ordinary matter that is dark – it is something else altogether. Science has no clue about what dark matter really is, but they know from their mathematical calculations to arrive at a good description of a galaxy they must take into consideration dark matter. And from these calculations we know that dark matter must make up about 26% of the mass-energy of the universe.
Particle physicists think that dark matter consists of a yet undiscovered particle that interacts with both gravity and matter. So, it is possible that we will eventually find these particles in the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland as they continue to increase the energy in the collider for particle collisions. Using collider technology, we have found neutrinos and recently the Higgs Boson. So, it is possible they might find a dark matter particle as they continue to ramp up the energy.
Dark matter does not interact with the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, or the electromagnetic force. But we do know it does exert gravity like ordinary matter. But, so far, that is all we know about dark matter.
Dark matter is displayed by its gravitational effects. Here, ‘gravitational lensing’ is revealed via the Hubble Space Telescope. It shows a distant region of space with a large amount of dark matter in a cluster of galaxies. The Dark Matter in the cluster is bending the light and distorting the image of a galaxy much further away, creating multiple images of the galaxy which are stretched out into arcs surrounding the foreground galaxy cluster.
Dark energy is even more mysterious than dark matter. In the first half of the twentieth century most scientists believed that the universe was static and that gravity would eventually slow down the expansion of the universe. In the 1990s, two different teams found that the expansion of the universe was actually speeding up. This discovery threw a wrench into the cosmic calculations and caused a shock in astrophysics.
Unlike dark matter, scientists have no good explanation of dark energy. Some scientists think it may be the fifth force in the universe in addition to gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. They also call it quintessence.
The history of dark energy’s discovery goes back to o1916 when Einstein published his general relativity theory. To make his equations fit a static universe he added a cosmological constant to the theory of gravity. According to Einstein his constant would be some kind of repulsive force that countered gravity.
But in 1929 the world was rocked by the discovery by Edwin Hubble that the universe was not static – it was expanding. Einstein than said his cosmological constant was the biggest blunder in his life. But, as it turns out, his cosmological constant was correct. It explained later in the century how space-time is being stretched apart and that dark energy is actually 69% of the mass-energy of the universe. But this doesn’t explain why this new force exists in the first place. It might be a part of space-time itself, or it might be due to a misunderstanding of how gravity itself works over cosmological distances.
The idea that we live in multiple universes is an old concept whose time might have come, although it is still being debated vigorously by physicists. Physicists have struggled for years to develop a working description of what they call Quantum Gravity and what Einstein called the unified field theory. This is the marriage between Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum mechanics. There have been many attempts to combine the two but the most practical may be string theory, which changes the micro world from small particles to very tiny energy strings. These are strings of energy that look like tiny rubber bands that are much smaller than an electron. String theory looked like an attractive solution but it failed in a world with only 3 space dimensions. To make it work String theorists needed 10 dimensions, which made the multiverse a possible reality. The multiple universe theory is supported by some of the assumptions of quantum theory.
Schrodinger Wave Equation - About the same time as Einstein’s great discovery, a man named Schrodinger invented a mathematical Wave Equation that measured possibilities in an experiment. It is not worth explaining here how the wave equation works except that it leads to a statistical probability. This is a big deal in Quantum mechanics because things at the sub atomic level cannot be measured accurately – they can only be measured in terms of probability. For instance, scientists might say where a particle might land in 4 different quadrants, which can only be summarized as a 75% probability that it will land in Quadrant A.
The Many Worlds Theory: In addition, the Schrodinger Wave Equation generates an endlessly proliferating number of possibilities. This can be interpreted by physicists as also generating an endlessly proliferating number of different branches of reality. This theory is called the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. For instance, how can science explain the fact that a photon could be measured as landing in 2 places at the same time? Quantum Theory says that it can be in both places because of the “many worlds theory of reality.”
This is the beginning of further experiments that prove multiple dimensions of reality. “The Many Worlds theory defines any particular branch of reality which might actualize to us as a result of an interaction of an observed system with an observing system as merely one way of decomposing the wave function which represents them both. According to this theory, all of the other states which “could have” resulted from the same interaction did happen, but in other branches of reality. Each of these branches of reality is real, and, together they constitute all the different ways in which we can decompose the universal wave function. If this is just a bunch of mumbo jumbo to the reader then it can be better explained by a simple thought experiment.
Schrodinger is also famous for an experiment he did called the Schrödinger’s Cat. The experiment was to put a cat in a box with poison gas triggered by the decay of a radioactive substance, which is based on a probability. Classical physics says when you open the lid; the cat will either be dead or alive. Quantum Mechanics says the fate of the cat is not determined until we observe it. Many Worlds interpretation says that reality splits into 2 worlds where in one reality you find the cat alive and in another reality, you find it dead. It says different editions of us live in many worlds simultaneously and all of the worlds are real.
Another way of expanding multiverses is by using the big bang when the universe was expanding very fast in a period science calls inflation. During this period called inflation, the universe expanded from a small speck to an entity as large as the solar system in a fraction of a second. At the end of inflation, the energy driving the expansion erupts into a fireball of particles and radiation. And, in this fireball there are microscopic bubbles that were also expanding. These bubbles are actually universes and we live in one of them but cannot see the others.
This picture of the universe is called the multiverse and it suggests there are other universes and dimensions in space-time. For the theoretical multiverse to work there must be some kind of pressure energy density in the vacuum of space. This pressure is called dark energy.
To confirm that dark energy and dark matter exist, science has recently measured both of them accurately in the European space craft called Plank. The measurements accurately fit the expected magnitude of the equations, and proved that the concept of the multiverse is probably correct. In fact, the Plank space craft measured dark matter as 26.8% and dark energy at 68.3 % of the mass of the universe. Adam Riess, a Nobel Winning physicist, says “I have no clue what dark energy is. Dark energy appears to be enough to push the entire universe – yet its source is unknown, its location is unknown, and its physics are highly speculative.” But dark energy appears to be the only force capable of forcing the universe 20 % faster than 5 billion years ago.
However, to date, there is no experimental evidence that exists that proves that a multiverse exists, even though the mathematics shows that both dark energy and a multiverse must exist.
Testing the theory
In an article in The Conversation in September 2015, the author Eugene Lim said, “The universes predicted by string theory and inflation live in the same physical space (unlike the many universes of quantum mechanics which live in a mathematical space), they can overlap or collide. Indeed, they inevitably must collide, leaving possible signatures in the cosmic sky which we can try to search for.”
The exact details of the signatures depend intimately on the models – ranging from cold or hot spots in the cosmic microwave background to anomalous voids in the distribution of galaxies. Nevertheless, since collisions with other universes must occur in a particular direction, a general expectation is that any signatures will break the uniformity of our observable universe.
These signatures are actively being pursued by scientists. Some are looking for it directly through imprints in the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the Big Bang. However, no such signatures are yet to be seen. Others are looking for indirect support such as gravitational waves, which are ripples in space-time as massive objects pass through. Such waves could directly prove the existence of inflation, which ultimately strengthens the support for the multiverse theory. In the summer of 2017 actual gravity waves were measured by the new LIGO system at Hanford. WA and in Louisiana.
Multiple universes have been hypothesized in cosmology, physics, astronomy, religion, philosophy, transpersonal psychology and literature. In religion, the proof of multiple universes might enhance religion’s claim there is a heaven. Proof might also help physicists unify relativity and quantum mechanics.
From a personal point of view, I kind of lean toward eventual proof of dark energy and a multiverse because it is supported by the “many world’s theory” of quantum mechanics which so far has never been proven wrong. All of this study of multiverse theory has reminded me of a science fiction story I read when I was 15 years old called “BEYOND THE STARS” by Ray Cummings. The story tells of a crew on a rocket that goes beyond light speed and eventually passes atoms and then molecules to emerge on a glass slide under a microscope in a parallel universe. It seems that the idea of multiple universes has something for everybody.