Lights Out: 5 New ‘Dark-Sky Places’ for Top-Shelf Stargazing

Star-studded vistas abound in the night sky. Awe-inspiring nocturnal vistas. Moreover, there’s no glare to taint the Milky Way.

These are the distinguishing characteristics of dark-sky locations. At least 187 locations across 21 countries, including national parks and remote sanctuaries, have been deemed to meet the International Dark-Sky Association’s standard for the designation: “a land with an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights,” according to a press release.

This non-profit organisation, based in Tucson, Ariz., is dedicated to restoring the night sky to its natural state. At least 30 new dark-sky locations have been designated so far in 2021 by the association’s conservation director, Ashley Wilson.

The group suggests simple changes, such as angling exterior lights downward, to reduce light pollution — obtrusive artificial light that obscures views of the stars and planets.

Ms. Wilson explained in an email that “every dark-sky place acts as an important vehicle to bring messages about the importance of dark skies and quality outdoor lighting to a wider audience, especially people who live in cities.”

It is open to all protected public and private lands that allow nighttime access, as well as those that do not.

For example, “no nearby artificial light sources yield significant glare,” said Wilson, the Milky Way must be easily visible to the unaided eye.

The following are five new dark-sky parks in the U.S.A.

The Mammoth Cave National Park

This national park in southern Kentucky, which covers nearly 53,000 acres, is known for its labyrinth of caves and dense forests. It was designated as a dark-sky park just last week.

Park Superintendent Barclay C. Trimble hopes that this designation will inspire the public to appreciate both the miles of deep underground passageways of Mammoth Cave, and the beauty of the night sky above the park, as well.

Over 700 outdoor light fixtures had to be evaluated and retrofitted to be dark-sky friendly as part of the certification process. Also required was a commitment to publicising the benefits of dark skies. This was the first National Park Service-operated site that received this designation.

State Park Watoga

Watoga State Park, Calvin Price State Forest, and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park in nearby West Virginia received their dark-sky designations in October.

West Virginia’s first dark-sky areas are a group of three public lands totaling 19,800 acres located in southern West Virginia.

The Watoga State Park Foundation began the process of obtaining this recognition in 2018. Over the course of one year, two park board members received a grant to replace the park’s light fixtures and collaborated with volunteer astronomers to monitor the park’s night sky quality.

According to the foundation’s president, “our many sensitive animal species will live and thrive in their accustomed darkness, free from artificial light pollution,” John Goodwin said in an official statement.

The Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in Texas became a dark-sky sanctuary in August.

Dark sky sanctuaries are typically located in remote areas with few (if any) threats to the quality of their dark night skies, according to the association’s nomenclature. Dark-sky parks and reserves are even more remote and darker than these.

It is located in the rugged Trans-Pecos region of West Texas, which encompasses approximately 103,000 acres.

This is the second time a state park has been designated as a sanctuary for wildlife. (In 2019, the Devils River State Natural Area received its certification.) Four dark-sky parks are also located in the state of Texas.

The Maine Woods A.M.C.

For the first time in New England, Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Woods property was designated a “dark sky park.”

One of the East Coast’s darkest areas, experts say, with clear views of pitch black skies.

The North Maine Woods, a 5,400-square-mile expanse of largely uninhabited forest that stretches from Monson, Maine, to Canada, is just a few miles from the park.

The International Dark-Sky Association’s executive director, Ruskin Hartley, said at the time of the designation that “we hope this designation will draw further attention to the value of this natural resource as well as its regional scarcity.”

The National Monument at Chiricahua

In April, the nearly 100-year-old national monument in southeast Arizona was designated a dark-sky park by the U.S. Forest Service.

the monument “protect[s] some of the darkest night skies in the American Southwest,” according to the association.

Rock pinnacles or “standing up rocks” have made the park known as a “sky island” because of its isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding grassland sea.

“Great natural protection from light pollution and sky glow” is provided by the park’s “geographic isolation” from major metropolitan areas, according to the dark-sky association, which described the park’s night sky quality as “nearly pristine at the zenith.”