Starry skies alive and well in the desert
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Simple improvements to outdoor lights at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells helped Death Valley become only the third U.S. national park to earn International Dark Sky park status, the park service announced this week.
Parts of Death Valley already boast some of the darkest night skies anywhere in the U.S. The new lighting guidelines will reduce energy usage, and cut sky glow and glare, leaving the stars untarnished in other areas of the park.
“Death Valley is a place to gaze in awe at the expanse of the Milky Way, follow a lunar eclipse, track a meteor shower, or simply reflect on your place in the universe,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We greatly appreciate the International Dark-Sky Association certification. It illustrates the park’s commitment to protect natural darkness and supports the wider mission to protect nightscapes in the entire National Park System.”
“As the world becomes more urbanized,” Jarvis said, “the value of a starry sky only increases and our ability to offer visitors these incredible experiences is an integral part of the National Park Service mission to preserve our nation’s most cherished places for this and future generations.”
“The Dark Sky Park designation represents not only the efforts of the park and its partners, but the dedication of avid amateur astronomers who have sought the park’s world-class starry skies for decades,” said Dan Duriscoe, of the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division.
Park rangers offer monthly night sky programs and hold stargazing events with astronomy organizations. Using high-powered telescopes, visitors can explore the mysteries of Death Valley’s dark, night skies.
“At Death Valley the sky literally begins at your feet,” said Tyler Nordgren, Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Redlands (Calif.) and International Dark-Sky Association board member. “When my students and I look up at night from our southern California campus, we can usually count 12 stars in the sky. However, less than a five hour drive from Los Angeles there’s a place where anyone can look up and see the universe the way everyone could 100 years ago.”
The park’s actions to reduce unnecessary lighting also tie in with “Starry, Starry Night,” one of the goals in A Call to Action—the National Park Service’s stewardship and engagement priorities for its second century.
For more information about the National Park Service’s Night Skies Program, visit www.nature.nps.gov/night/.