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Dark Skies

In the North American cities we live, it is often difficult at night to tell the few stars we might see from the airplane headlights twinkling at us. The city’s artificial light may dim in the “off hours” of most human activity but the remaining glow also provides a night sky viewing experience that Dr Roberta Bondar judges is akin to looking through a cataract, significantly obscuring our vision of even our own Milky Way.

In a recent segment [June 16, 2016] of The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti, CBC Radio, several aspects of Dark Skies are discussed:

This podcast features:

  1. Dan Duriscoe – physical scientist for the U.S. National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division and a co-author of a new international scientific study on night sky light pollution;
  2. Robert Dick – Manager, Canadian Dark Sky Preserve Program and Chair, Light Pollution Abatement Committee, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada [RASC] and who has a company that manufactures low-impact outdoor lights;
  3. Dr. Roberta Bondar – Canadian neurologist, astronaut, and photographer whose not-for-profit foundation works to connect and reconnect people to Nature, which includes sky light as part of our natural environment.

DARK SKIES – some why and where

People can grow up without even knowing what they’re missing — without seeing the natural night skies that they might yet experience in the national parks of the western United States or Canada.

There is growing evidence that suggests that losing the dark sky at night can possibly have a real impact on human health. Artificial light at night impacts both the physical and mental well-being of humans and other animals.

It exacerbates problems when it comes to healing disease or infection since artificial light at night seems to reduce the body’s ability to fight those. The dark sky promotes better sleep during which the body tends to its repairs and rejuvenation.

Light refracted from cloud cover and higher levels within our atmosphere over cities can be seen for a hundred kilometres or more in its surrounding countryside. When even the light of a full moon can curtail the foraging patterns of many animals, this artificial light spillover impacts those animals since that sky glow can exceed that of a full moon.

In terms of simply being aware of ourselves in relation to Nature and the Universe, if we can’t see the information that exists within a natural night sky, we can’t fully relate to Nature. If we lack awareness or understanding of natural dark sky phenomena, we cannot ask insightful questions and seek answers about ourselves and our environment. This lack of free knowledge and natural experience degrades our insight into who we are as a life form in the greater natural universe.

In Canada, RASC is instrumental in setting up guidelines and trying to define what a dark sky preserve should be. Dark Sky preserves give an opportunity for people to be able to participate and look at the night sky unencumbered by the light pollution that interferes with our vision of a natural night. Using its guidelines, The Society assigns official designations to three types of light-restricted protected areas: Dark-Sky Preserves™, Urban Star Parks™ and Nocturnal Preserves™

“How can we reconnect individuals to something that has been free to everybody throughout time?”

Dr. Roberta Bondar

“The light glow, the glow that we get because the light hits dust and particles in the atmosphere and scatters it so it basically makes the sky look like a big cataract,” said Dr Bondar. “if you know there’s a canopy overhead that’s like having a big white cataract, you’re not going to be moved [to look up]. I mean, that’s just the bottom line.”

Besides the loss of the Science and the Math, we also lose our ability to wonder and dream and think in terms of science fiction, poetry, music, painting – all the interconnected cultural components that define and feed the life form we are.

Fortunately, Dark Sky Reserves provide access to a brighter, cleaner, clearer view of this incredible wealth of information and wonder.

Some links to Dark Skies resources include:
Beaver Hills Dark-Sky Preserve
Parks Canada link – Beaver Hills Dark-Sky Preserve

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park Dark-Sky Preserve

Gordon’s Park Dark-Sky Preserve
Dedicated website – Gordon’s Park

Mont-Mégantic Dark-Sky Preserve
Mégantic Dark-Sky Preserve
International Dark Sky Association – [En] Mont-Mégantic International Dark Sky Reserve [MMIDSR]
International Dark Sky Association – [Fr] La Réserve internationale de ciel étoilé du Mont-Mégantic [RICEMM]

Point Pelee National Park Dark-Sky Preserve
Parks Canada link – Point Pelee National Park Dark-Sky Preserve

Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve