Dark Skies


Smoky Lake County enjoys terrifically dark skies. On clear nights, the stars are overwhelming and innumerable. In October 2020, the County's Committee of the Whole for Planning adopted a recommending motion "That Smoky Lake County recommend to proceed in principal to seek dark-sky designation, subject to public participation." 

Stay tuned to this space for updates! 

Northern Lights, 2020
Amanda Shapka

The Bright Moon Glows
Northern Lights at Waskatenau, 2019
Kyle Schole

THE DISAPPEARING NIGHT

When we think of natural resources, few of us think of darkness. Centuries ago, when human settlements were relatively free of artificial lighting, the moon and stars dominated the night sky. Street lighting as we know it began approximately 300 years ago with oil lamps placed on wooden poles. By the 19th century, gas lamps came into use and by the 20th century the utilization of artificial electric lamps was widely spread.

Advances in lighting technology have slowly flooded our world with light, and city nightscapes are now dominated by the artificial lighting of buildings, streets, signs, parking lots and open spaces. The stars and constellations are outshone by the light emanating from human development and even the brightest constellations are no longer fully visible to residents in and around large cities whose artificial glow can be seen from over 200 miles away. While artificial lights are important for safety, sense of security, and navigation, light pollution results when lighting is excessive or inappropriately used.

Light pollution is a threat because of the negative effects on humans and the environment as well as long-term consequences, such as biodiversity, economic, and cultural loss, that cannot easily be reversed.

What is a Dark Sky Community?

"An IDA International Dark Sky Community is a town, city, municipality or other legally organized community that has shown exceptional dedication to the preservation of the night sky through the implementation and enforcement of a quality outdoor lighting ordinance, dark sky education and citizen support of dark skies. Dark Sky Communities excel in their efforts to promote responsible lighting and dark sky stewardship, and set good examples for surrounding communities. " - Source: IDA Website

The International Dark Sky Places Program offers five types of designations:

International Dark Sky Communities

Communities are legally organized cities and towns that adopt quality outdoor lighting ordinances and undertake efforts to educate residents about the importance of dark skies.

International Dark Sky Parks

Parks are publicly- or privately-owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors.

International Dark Sky Reserves

Reserves consist of a dark “core” zone surrounded by a populated periphery where policy controls are enacted to protect the darkness of the core.

International Dark Sky Sanctuaries

Sanctuaries are the most remote (and often darkest) places in the world whose conservation state is most fragile.

Urban Night Sky Places

UNSPs are sites near or surrounded by large urban environs whose planning and design actively promote an authentic nighttime experience in the midst of significant artificial light at night, and that otherwise do not qualify for designation within any other International Dark Sky Places category.

Where are the International Dark Sky Places located?

As of February 2020, there are over 130 certified IDSPs in the world. See where they are located on this interactive map.

How are International Dark Sky Places designated?

IDA designates IDSPs following a rigorous application process requiring applicants to demonstrate robust community support for dark sky protection and document designation-specific program requirements.

Applications are reviewed bimonthly by an IDA standing committee composed of dark sky experts and previously successful program applicants. Regular status updates ensure that designated places continue their commitment to dark sky preservation.

Upon certification, IDA works with certified places to promote their work through media relations, member communications, and social media. An International Dark Sky Place designation helps enhance the visibility of designated locations and foster increased tourism and local economic activity.

Application Process:

TYPES OF LIGHT POLLUTION

LIGHT TRESPASS When light falls where it is not wanted or needed. Use fully shielded light fixtures whenever possible.

GLARE Intense and blinding light that reduces visibility and causes discomfort. Direct light downwards and use the  lowest adequate light intensity.

CLUTTER Excessive groupings of light sources that are bright and confusing. Only direct lighting onto desired areas and avoid excessive lighting.

SKYGLOW The brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas. Use fully shielded light fixtures, direct light downwards, use the lowest adequate light intensity, and optimize lighting placement.

DARK SKY LIGHTING BASICS

SHIELDING OF FIXTURES Downward pointing, fully shielded lighting keeps unwanted light from escaping into surrounding areas and the sky above. They direct the light onto the desired areas and limit glare. Outdoor lighting should be “fully shielded,” meaning no light emitted above a 90 degree angle. The more directed towards the intended subject, the better. Fully shielded lighting can be purchased or retrofitted.

AMOUNT OF LIGHT Outdoor lighting can easily become excessive. Limiting the total amount of installed lighting can help reduce light pollution. Designing for the appropriate amount of lighting includes shining lights down instead of up, directing light only onto desired areas, and using the lowest adequate bulb intensity. Timers, motion sensors, dimmer switches, and turning lights off when not in use can all contribute to darker skies, and in many cases, reduce municipal and property owner electrical costs.

LIGHTING COLOR The color of the light is important as well. Blue-rich lighting brightens the night sky more than warm colored lighting and researchers are beginning to connect blue-light emission to negative health effects in people and greater problems for wildlife. The IDA recommends using warm, amber-colored lighting with a color temperature of 3000 Kelvin or less. Look at product packaging to determine color temperature.

ESSENTIAL TAKEAWAYS

  • LIGHT ONLY WHAT YOU NEED: Use fully shielded fixtures. Shine lights down, not up. Direct lighting at desired areas. Be strategic with lighting and only use it where needed.
  • LIGHT ONLY WHEN YOU NEED: Install timers, motion sensors, and dimmer switches, and turn off lights when not in use.
  • LIGHT ONLY HOW MUCH YOU NEED: Use the right amount of light. Save electricity by using the lowest adequate wattage bulbs. Too much light is wasteful, impairs vision, and can be costly.
  • LIGHT ONLY HOW YOU NEED: Use long-wavelength lights with a red or yellow tint to minimize negative health effects. Use warmer colored bulbs, like yellow or amber instead of white. Avoid bluish light, which is known to have a variety of negative effects.

ASTRO-TOURISM

According to the New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness, nearly 80 percent of North Americans cannot see the Milky Way due to light pollution. Places where the night skies are free from artificial light pollution have become increasingly popular tourist destinations.

Astronomical Tourism, or “Astro Tourism,” is a form of nature-based tourism specifically concerned with the viewing of celestial objects, space and the physical universe. Astro-tourism is also one of the most sustainable forms of tourism. ...One of the many benefits of astro-tourism is that it generally leads to one or more overnight stays.

“Having internationally recognized dark skies bolsters our ability to attract more visitors and offer more night programming which results in more people enjoying our parks at more times of the day.”- Fred Hayes, Former Utah State Parks Director

HERITAGE AND RURAL CHARACTER

Star gazing has been a human pastime since ancient times. The ancients interpreted constellations and arrangements of the stars and planets that they saw in the night sky to have important meaning for themselves and their families. Similarly, night skies were important to indigenous people and early settlers. As light pollution becomes more prevalent, the ability of humans to view and enjoy the night sky diminishes. This has subtle but significant cultural impacts, especially for future generations.

Communities recognize, appreciate, and work to protect their unique and beautiful night skies often from a cultural, value-based perspective.

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