The sun goes down, the light starts to fade below the horizon, and one by one the stars start to shine. Like clock work, the night sky comes alive in the dark, with each passing day, the important question is if we can see it or not. The pleasure of viewing a dark clear sky is restricted too many people in the world due to light pollution, and protecting our dark skies is more important than ever.
On a recent poll I conducted on my instagram there were over 150 responses and over 50% of people had no direct access to viewing the night sky. Ive read somewhere that up to 80% of the global population does not have proper access to a dark sky site. This is alarming. I realize most of this is due to living in urban areas, however it points out how green space has always been an aspect of community and societal development, but night sky access hasn’t always been recognized like that. Each year dark sky access is continuously reduced as population and development increase. Just like the environment, the dark sky must be protected for future generations.
The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) is an organization dedicated to preserving our dark sky and spreading awareness and increasing education on ways we can all work together to save our dark sky. There are many ways you can help out, and we all share the night sky together, shouldn’t we all be doing our part to protect it? Support the IDA and keep updated as active citizens around the world work together to designate and protect areas for dark sky locations.
There are different levels of dark sky known scientifically as the bortle scale. So there are different levels of dark sky and preserving the darkest levels in areas is important. How many stars and detail you can see with the naked eye all depends on distance from light pollution and development and closer to a natural environment. The further away you can get from any source of light pollution, the better the view of the night sky is.
Night Sky Viewing Tip: Do not look at any source of light for about 20 minutes to allow your eyes to completely adjust to the darkness. Red lights are often used by astronomers and photographers because they don’t cause your eyes to immediately adjust to the incoming light, this allows you to keep your night vision without having to wait it out again. Don’t look at your phone, your watch or even your camera screen. To have a true view of the cosmos, keep your eyes adjusted to the dark.
Visit Dark Sky Finder to see a map of global light pollution. You can see the global scale of light pollution, the ever decreasing areas of dark sky and the areas throughout the world where viewing the night sky is considered to be best. You can see the levels of light pollution radiating from each urban centre, often overlap creating obstructed views for even rural residents in some areas.
Canada is large, the sheer land size alone and generally low population density allows for more room to view the sky from remote and undeveloped locations. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is the national organization responsible for designating dark sky sites in Canada. Through awareness, education and astronomical science, the RASC is a valuable organization for protecting Canadian dark skies.
The RASC designates areas in three categories in Canada with most of the protected and designated areas falling into the Dark Sky Preserve category. I recently visited Jasper Dark Sky Preserve and wrote about it here. Having these designated areas allows you to rely on the ability to have access to dark sky. Although most rural and remote areas around Canada also offer the same unobstructed views without any formal designations, a structured Dark Sky program regulated by the RASC provides protection, commitment and preservation for the future.
Dark Sky Preserve – has no artificial lighting visible and has active measures in place to educate toward the reduction of light.
Urban Star Parks – an area in which artificial lighting is strictly controlled and active measures are in place to educate the public to reduce light pollution.
Nocturnal Preserves – an area where artificial lighting is strictly controlled and active measures are in place to educate about light pollution, with the primary goal of protecting the night time environment.
Protecting the night and our access to dark sky is essential for the local ecosystem and communities. As light pollution continues to increase, the importance dark sky plays in our everyday life continues to become more apparent. This week is International Dark Sky Week and gives an opportunity to bring awareness and education to the importance of the night and preserving our view of the cosmos for the future.
To Celebrate the 2020 International Dark Sky Week, I also wrote about my favourite Celestial Wonders of the Night Sky to raise awareness of the beauty and importance of dark sky preservation.
Keep our skies dark and together we can keep looking up!