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Dark Skies Turn On the Lights

Visiting Glacier National Park during a New Moon and the peak of this year’s Perseids meteor shower proved a double pleasure, allowing me to witness a light show few ever get a chance to see.

The park rightly prides itself on the fact that it “is home to some of the darkest skies in the world” and has worked with it’s sister park—Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park—to achieve certification as an International Dark Sky Park/Preserve, a designation that takes years to achieve and is not given lightly.

Why the distinction?

Because light pollution makes it harder to see and appreciate the grandeur of the night sky with every passing year. For more than 200,000 years, our species could look up into the heavens above and see 10,000 or more stars with the naked eye. Now many of us see far fewer. If any.

Take, for example, the Milky Way. Until about 150 years ago, the Milky Way blazed across the sky on the nights surrounding a New Moon. (As it does in the photo, above, where it lights the skies above Heavy Runner Mountain in Glacier National Park.) Now as many as a third of humanity can’t catch a glimpse of the Milky Way—not even on the darkest nights. Light pollution prevents them from seeing it.

That “includes 80% of Americans and 60% of Europeans,” according to Jareem Imam, writing for CNN. And, elsewhere, the situation is even worse.

“In Singapore—the country with the most light pollution in the world,” reports Deborah Newborn in the Los Angeles Times, “the skies never go dark.” “Even at 1 a.m.,” she explains, “the sky more closely resembles the warm glow of twilight than the inky blackness of a true night.”

To see the stars in all their glory, most of us have to travel away from the cities and their lights to dark havens in such places as Alqueva in Portugal, “the first site in the world to be certified by the Starlight Foundation as a ‘Starlight Tourism Destination.’ ” To North Fork Park in northern Utah, only “the second county park in the world to land this designation.” To Death Valley National Park, which “harbors some of the darkest night skies in the United States,” the key factor to the park achieving “certification as only the third International Dark Sky Park in the U.S. National Park System.” To Grand Canyon National Park, “which was just named the newest park to be certified as ‘Dark Sky,’ only the 12th national park to earn the distinction,” according to CBS News.

Or to beautiful Glacier, which should receive recognition as the latest—but hopefully not the last—national park to become a certified Dark Sky Park in the near future.

To find out more about the International Dark-Sky Association and the issues associated with light pollution, consider the following articles:

International Dark Sky Association
Dark Sky Reserve Alqueva Wins First Worldwide Certification Awarded by UNESCO and the World Tourism Organization
Landscape/Night Sky
North Fork Park Receives Rare Dark Sky Designation
Light Pollution Masks the Milky Way for a Third of the World’s Population
One-third of the World Cannot See the Milky Way—Why that Matters
Light Pollution Prevents 1 in 3 Earthlings from Seeing the Milky Way at Night
O Radiant Dark! O Starry Night!
Missing the Dark: Health Effects of Light Pollution
Light Pollution
Our Vanishing Night
The Problem of Light Pollution
The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness