“The stars are visible only in darkness, but though equally set in the firmament during the light of day, they are lost in the brightness of the glorious sun.”
A passage that holds true. The grandeur of the stars can only be viewed in the darkness. Although its beauty fades in the daylight due to the brightness of the sun, the same argument can be said about light pollution.
With this environmental problem, it results in our night sky becoming hundreds of times brighter than a natural lit sky. Besides that, the skyglow keeps the stars from our sight and obstructs us from enjoying the natural light; the same case goes for people who are a hundred miles away from urban areas. If we are currently affected by this problem, then how do we identify the best stargazing sites?
When you ask the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), the leading authority on artificial light pollution, there are several categories of classifying stargazing sites.
The International Dark Sky Communities (IDSC) is an organization of cities and towns that support quality outdoor lighting ordinances. On one hand, International Dark Sky Parks (IDSP) is a naturally conserved space that complies with good outdoor lighting. Meanwhile, International Dark Sky Sanctuaries (IDSS) are the darkest and most remote sites whose conservation state is delicate. Lastly, International Dark Sky Reserves (IDSR) is a site that contains a dark core zone which is protected by a facility or foundation.
Once categorized, IDA will rate the stargazing sites from the scale of six to one. With one to three rating corresponding to Gold Tier, three to five rating equates to Silver Tier, and five to six rating indicates a Bronze Tier. Basically, if you’re given the gold tier, it means the finest quality night sky is being displayed.
Now based on these criteria, here are ten of the world’s best stargazing destinations:
Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, Japan
Year certified: 2018
A national park located in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, within the Yaeyema Islands of the East China Sea. It houses the critically endangered Iriomote cat, which was discovered fifty years ago, plus other threatened plant and animal species. Though the park territory is densely populated, it supports the preservation and promotion of dark skies.
Despite being recently certified, with lighting policies and guidance improved and issued, the site routinely achieves Silver and Gold tier night sky quality. With the island tourism gaining activity due to the astro tourism sector, supporters work to bolster public appreciation and understanding of the dark skies.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument, United States
Year certified: 2018
The site has been designated a Traditional Cultural Property by the U. S. National Park Service, a historical status given to places with cultural importance. Located in the state of Utah, the enormous sanctuary is a vast 65-hectare (160 acres) landmark that preserves one of the tallest and longest natural bridges in the world.
The monumental bridge was created by Bridge Creek in the glacial period. To the modern Pauite and Navajo folks, the structure is called Nonnezoshe or “rainbow turned to stone”. Settlers in the area revere the structure as a sacred place.
To access the sanctuary, you have to travel a two-hour boat ride on Lake Powell from marinas near Page, Arizona. After that, you have to hike overland for several days on the south side of Lake Powell. With the site’s protected status and isolated location, it is able to preserve its natural darkness.
Bodmin Moor Dark Sky Landscape, England
Year certified: 2017
Bodmin Moor is the first and largest unit of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With this kind of designation, it receives protection from countless forms of large-scale development that would cultivate new lighting to the area. While the majority of the land is privately owned, it was declared open in 2000. During daytime, the Moor thrives with activities such as hiking, bicycling, fishing, and rock climbing.
Eventually, in the last decade, nighttime offerings were added as the Moor has seen steady growth of tourists who come and views its dark night skies. The Cornwall Council commits to protecting its night skies. Furthermore, locals take a program which shows them the economic and cultural significance of dark skies.
Warrumbungle National Park, Australia
Year certified: 2016
The impressive Warrumbungle National Park is set in a 23,312-hectare area in the Orana region of New South Wales, Australia. While it offers a breathtaking vista of the Warrumbungle Mountain Range in the daytime, it is traditionally known for its outstanding dark sky nights.
Incidentally, the national park is the first IDA Dark Sky Park in Australia. This is a result of a year-long work to contain threats of light pollution thru outdoor lighting policy and regional planning. As a consequence, visitors get to enjoy magnificent gold tier night skies with or without visiting its observatory.
Thunder Mountain Pootseev Nightsky, United States
Year certified: 2015
The official community name, Thunder Mountain Pootseev Nightsky highlights three factors. These are specifically, the sovereignty of the Kaibab Paiute nation, the significance of Thunder Mountain and the night sky in its culture, and lastly the distinct language of the Southern Paiutes.
As a group, the Kaibab Paiute is the first ethnic and linguistic tribe to collectively adopt dark skies principles. The community maintains that they have a special responsibility to protect and manage their lands and water.
Snowdonia National Park, Wales
Year certified: 2015
A sprawling terrain with more than 2,100 square kilometers, the Snowdonia National Park consists of mountainous lands which extend into coastal areas. Observing the rugged interior of the park, it accommodates minimal human settlement to this day. In return, it fosters a naturally dark haven set apart from coastal cities.
In forming the Snowdonia Dark Sky Reserve, the park’s members strived to strengthen the public support of protecting the terrain’s night skies. Subsequently, the group made valuable progress in educating locals about the frail state of the dark skies in the site, plus its worth as a natural resource and a tourism draw.
Rhon Biosphere Reserve, Germany
Year certified: 2014
The Rhon Biosphere Reserve or Biosphärenreservat Rhön, is comprised of 1,720 square kilometers of protected lands plus the entire region of the Rhon Mountains. Having an elevation reaching up to 950 meters, the region is also called “Land der offenen Fernen”, which means land of endless horizons.
The darkest night skies can be found in the core zone of the reserve. Its buffer zone, a widely populated area, follows responsible outdoor light policies to protect the core’s dark skies. With its unique three definite core, the Rhon Reserve is definitely an unparalleled entry in the Dark Sky Places Program.
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
Year certified: 2012
As early as the 1980s, the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve already deployed outdoor lighting controls. A prominent stargazing destination, the area is comprised of Aoraki National Park and the Mackenzie Basin.
According to history, the Maori’s, the areas first residents, used the night sky to navigate the island and blended astronomy and star lore into their culture and daily lives. To honor that history, the Aoraki Mackenzie Reserve ensures the night sky is a protected and vital part of the site’s natural and cultural landscape. Currently, the Mackenzie Basin holds the clearest, darkest, and most impressive night sky in New Zealand.
Zselic National Landscape Protection Area, Hungary
Year certified: 2009
Starting out as a project between the Duna-Drava National Park Directorate and the Hungarian Astronomical Association, the Zselic Starry Sky Park at the Zselic National Landscape Protection Area was formed in 1976. The park which is located in the North Zselic region spans at 9, 042 hectares.
Expanding its reach, the project coordinated with its seventeen adjacent municipalities and the Lighting Society of Hungary to mitigate the communities’ effects on the park. Zselic, as a region, is considered as one of the excellent places with close to unaltered dark night skies in Hungary. During spring and autumn, you can regularly view the zodiacal lights and on crystal clear nights you catch with your naked eye the spiral Triangulum Galaxy.
Mont-Megantic, Quebec Canada 2007
Year certified: 2007
Mont-Megantic is the world’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. Due to the designation, the surrounding thirty-four municipalities created outdoor lighting regulations that aided in the control and decrease of area light pollution. As a result, 2,500 light fixtures were replaced which yielded a 25% drop in the light pollution and decline in energy consumption of some 1.3-gigawatt hours per year.
Industrialized countries look up at the project as a model for balanced outdoor lighting needs, energy efficiency, and preservation of the night skies.
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