Night skies have forever been a source of wonder and amazement to many cultures and people. Stargazing, spotting comets, and viewing the Milky Way has awed generations and inspired imaginations. Unfortunately, many dark night skies are being lost to increased light pollution and urban sprawl. Check out these five places in the United States to see some of the best dark skies not yet lost:
- Portal, Arizona – Home of the Arizona Sky Village, this residential community in the southeast corner of Arizona has received national and international acclaim for its extraordinary night sky viewing. Purchased and developed by mainly a retired community of amateur astronomers, the Arizona Sky Village is committed to preserving their night skies and many homes boast home observatories. Learn more about this unique community at http://www.arizonaskyvillage.com/.
- Natural Bridges National Monument – Located in the southeast corner of Utah, Natural Bridges National Monument features the second largest natural bridge in the world and is also home to some of the darkest skies in the United States. In 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument was named the first International Dark-Sky Park in 2007 by the International Dark-Sky Association. This designation recognizes the availability and quality of dark skies at Natural Bridges National Monument and also the park’s commitment to preserving dark skies and educating the public about the importance of dark skies. Check out the park’s astronomy ranger program during the summer months.
- Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania – Cherry Springs State Park is one of the best places for stargazing on the eastern seaboard. The 48-acres state park is surrounded by the 262,000-acre state forest and has been classified as a 2 on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, meaning it has almost no light pollution. The quality night skies attract many visitors and the park host two star parties each year. During the best viewing conditions, over 10,000 stars can be seen with the naked eye and the Milky Way is so bright that it casts a shadow.
- Fairbanks, Alaska – Fairbanks is often considered the best place in the United States to view the northern lights, or aurora borealis, which is a natural light display of green, yellow, red, or even purple colors. Located in the auroral oval, a ring-shaped region around the North Pole, Fairbanks receives a frequent and reliable amount of northern light activity. Darkness and little light pollution is essential for viewing not only the northern lights, but also stars, galaxies, and comets. Visit Fairbanks and you will be delighted with especially dark skies and unique night sky activity.
- Mauna Kea, Hawai’i – The W.M. Keck Observatory can be found near the summit of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai’i. It houses the largest observable telescopes in the world, each standing eight stories tall and weighing 300 tons. While observation time on the telescopes is not available to the public, this remote spot surrounded by the Pacific Ocean offers top notch views of the night sky. Visit the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center and participate in their free stargazing programs after dark.
Protecting the dark skies we have left can be done with simple measures such as removing unnecessary outdoor lighting or using fully shielded light fixtures that direct light towards the ground instead of upwards. Use energy saving features such as timers, dimmers, and motion sensors in all outdoor lighting. Finally, educating others and yourself about the cultural, environmental, and health benefits of dark skies is the best way to protect them. Learn more at the International Dark Sky Association website.