"In 1994, the LA Earthquake struck at 4:30 AM. This blacked out the whole city, leaving behind a dark sky full of bright celestial bodies that had up until then been hidden by the unshielded city lights...Residents called The Griffith Observatory and 911 to report a “strange silvery cloud” in the sky. They were seeing our own galaxy for the first time."
Image By: BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner
"Stars shine over the Northern Wasatch Mountains above North Fork Park in Eden. The park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. Such a designation is rare for a location so close to an urban area. The glow from the lights of Ogden can be seen pouring over the ridge."
This article was originally posted on KUER 90.1. Visit their website to listen to the entire piece.
By: Nicole Nixon
Midway through International Dark Sky Week, Bettymaya Foott is leading about a dozen people through downtown Salt Lake City after dusk.
Foott works with the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative. It aims to preserve views of the stars in the night sky by cutting down on light pollution.
“Light pollution is defined as any negative aspect of artificial light at night,” she says.
Foott says light pollution can have impacts on wildlife, energy costs, and health.
It includes what’s known as an urban skyglow, or the haze of light around cities that obscures the stars. But it also includes things like the glare of streetlights through a bedroom window. Last year the American Medical Association confirmed that LED street lighting can disrupt the human sleep cycle.
“It definitely affects sleep and insomnia, but it’s also been linked with rates of breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes and obesity,” Foott says.
Utah leads the nation with nine certified dark sky parks, which means exceptional stargazing.
But the Salt Lake Valley’s skyglow is visible from the other side of its surrounding mountains. So Foott organized a walk through downtown to learn more about the light sources around the city.
She points out decorative light fixtures that point straight up into the sky, which the group describes as “useless,” and windows into empty office buildings with the lights left on.
“I’m sure not everyone in these offices is working, right? The lights are probably just left on,” Foott says. “And they can save a lot of money by turning these lights off.”
The group stops in front of the Harmons grocery store to look at the lighting above its loading dock.
“Fully-shielded directional lighting, appropriate for the task, not obtrusive to our eyes,” Foott says.
She delivers the final verdict: “Good job Harmons
Torrey • Utah is emerging as a global leader in protecting dark skies from light pollution, attracting visits to the Colorado Plateau that during the next decade are expected to pump $2.5 billion into rural economies.
Residents in several southern Utah communities have mounted a grass-roots push to retrofit old lighting outside homes, business and public thoroughfares to curb stray beams and save money through more efficient, directed lighting.
Torrey, the gateway town to Capitol Reef National Park, is slated to become the state’s first Dark Sky Community, while Springdale, Boulder, Moab, Kanab and the border town of Page, Ariz., are considering or have passed light-curbing ordinances. The Dark Sky Community designation is an award granted so far to only 15 other communities in the United States, Canada, Scotland, Denmark and the Channel Islands.
In addition, the University of Utah has awarded formal recognition to the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, the first academic center in the world dedicated to discovering, developing and applying knowledge to help protect night skies, according to U. officials. And next year, the university will help sponsor the largest global conference to date, examining the impacts of artificial lights.
Light pollution prompted Torrey resident Mary Bedingfield-Smith to find out what the small town (population 300) could do to curb artificial light. A single street light near her home was so bright that it lit up a row of cottonwood trees, spoiling her view of Capitol Reef’s star-encrusted sky. She chatted with neighbors on walks and met with town officials with a proposal: Her group would raise money to install new lighting, and the municipality would save more than $900 in lighting costs each year.
Bedingfield-Smith, a retired elementary-school teacher and Utah State University educator, was able to form a consensus by assuring residents that no one would be forced to replace existing lighting. And her group would pay new lighting costs for those who wanted to retrofit but couldn’t afford it.
“People are worried about their specific situation, which is difficult to address in a large meeting,” said Bedingfield-Smith, now a Torrey planning-commission member. “When we talk individually, we can discuss specific lighting needs and what can be done to get there. Without individuals and associations working together, the last remaining dark areas on the planet could well disappear without anyone noticing.”
In late March, crews replaced traditional bulbs, which spew out beams in all directions, in the town’s streetlights along Main Street. Workers from Garkane Energy Cooperative installed new lights using spectra that direct light away from the sky.
Torrey residents turned to online crowdfunding to help pay for eight new streetlights. Nearly $13,000 was raised through the website ioby.org (“in our backyards”), and the Torrey arts organization Entrada helped raise an additional $7,000. The donations paid for the town’s retrofitted bulbs and new lighting at the Torrey Trading Post and Chuck Wagon store and motel, both on Main Street. Streetlights on 100 North have not yet been replaced, allowing residents to see the different effects on the night-sky view.
The longtime goal is to assist other towns in the sparsely populated Wayne County (population 2,700) to protect its dark skies — from the county seat of Loa along the State Highway 24 corridor leading to Capitol Reef.
Utah has more dark-sky places than any other state or country, but light pollution is eroding this valuable, irreplaceable resource, said John Barentine, program manager for the International Dark-Sky Association. Torrey, for example, has been the single greatest source of light pollution above Capitol Reef. Visitors must hike into the deepest southern reaches of the park to enjoy the most pristine night skies.
“In the American West, small towns emit more amounts of light, relative to their populations, than do large metropolitan areas,” he said. “There’s also broader support for private-property rights, and a fundamental human fear of darkness. The tendency in rural areas is to light up property in the name of safety and security.”
Yet people can be safe and save money by using lights appropriately, advocates say. Simple shields on existing bulbs, for example, direct beams downward, rather than lighting up the heavens. And instead of using expensive all-night floodlights, motion detectors can flash an immediate alert to an intruder.
LED lights are phasing out other types of bulbs, but some of the brightest lamps cast a blue color, creating glare problems. It’s suggested that consumers purchase LEDs measured in light output of 3,000 lumens. By comparison, an old standard 100-watt bulb equals about 1,600 lumens. The IDA website lists names of companies that manufacture appropriate lighting. The association also has an IDA Seal of Approval that provides objective, third-party certification for lighting that minimizes glare, reduces light trespass and doesn’t pollute the night sky.
The American Medical Association has raised concerns about exposure to blue-rich white LED lighting, which can damage human retinas, create road hazards and disrupt nocturnal animals. The report “Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode Community Lighting” recommends “minimizing and controlling blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible.”
Dark skies above Colorado Plateau will have a huge economic impact on Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, according to a Missouri State University study. Tourists from around the world will spend nearly $2.5 billion visiting national parks in the Colorado Plateau, creating more than 52,250 jobs.
Increased visitation will also affect rural areas by providing a steady source of income for local businesses and employees during the off-peak season, according to the study.
“Many in the world have lost their view of the Milky Way,” study authors David Mitchell and Terrel Gallaway write. “For them a dark sky is as exotic a sight as a herd of bison or a glacial lake.”
The economic impact does not include additional tourism dollars generated from visits to Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management lands, including Utah’s Bears Ears or Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, the latter of which is larger than the state of Delaware. Cedar Breaks National Monument near Cedar City recently celebrated being designated an International Dark Sky Park, the seventh in Utah to win this honor.
The Colorado Plateau is among the nation’s last remaining dark-sky regions. Its low population density, large swatches of public lands, arid climate and high elevation lend themselves to superior night views, said Bettymaya Foott, global coordinator for the U. academic consortium and coordinator for the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, which provides educational materials and promotes initiatives.
“There is social shift toward appreciating the importance of dark skies,” she said. “Today, there is a greater understanding that this is something worth protecting.”
To further dark-sky protections, the U. consortium is bringing together more than 25 universities, industries, community and government partners to take part in researching light pollution. The consortium also has partnered with ALAN (Artificial Light at Night) to host a global conference at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in November 2018.
Stephen Goldsmith, consortium co-director and associate professor of city and metropolitan planning at the U., said in a statement when the consortium was announced in February: “The related trans-disciplinary subjects of research, both abundant and complex, make the consortium a critically important resource for communities in the developed and developing world.”
P A sampling of events throughout Utah to see the stars in coming weeks:
Wednesdays, 8 to 11 p.m. • Star Party when skies are clear; University of Utah South Physics Observatory, 115 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City; free
Thursdays and Saturdays, 6:45 p.m. • Viewing dark skies; Clark Planetarium, 110 S. 400 West, Salt Lake City; $2
April through May • Citizen science research to study the impact of Salt Lake City’s light pollution on migratory birds; Tracy Aviary, 589 E. 1300 South; contact Cooper Farr, firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, April 29, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. • Astronomy Day, Clark Planetarium; free
Saturday, May 6, 6:45 p.m. • Gateway to the Stars program, Clark Planetarium; $2
May 14-20 • Amazing Earthfest, Kanab; http://amazingearthfest.com
Originally published on the University of Utah’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Blog
By Janey Heyman
Moving from a small California beach town to Salt Lake City, I realized the night sky was a severely under-utilized resource in my childhood. I can only identify four constellations: the three-starred belt of Orion, the ladle-shaped Big Dipper and its younger sister the Little Dipper, and the cluster of the Pleiades. Now looking up at Salt Lake City’s sky, I can barely make out Orion amongst the shroud of sky glow produced by the city. A large urban center, Salt Lake City’s sky glow is dominating and can only be partially escaped by traveling up one of the many Wasatch front canyons. Even tucked away in the canyons, the large halo of light pollution coming from Salt Lake is still visible, and many of the fainter stars vanish. Finding pathways for solutions to our light pollution issues might just be as important as the solutions themselves. Communicating problems and respectfully listening to stakeholders makes resolutions more efficient and painless – especially when change can be so difficult to come by.
While light pollution is not as prominent or as hotly discussed as air quality, it still holds an important place at the table of environmental issues. In fact, light pollution actually worsens the smog that us city dwellers know all too well. According to Kelly Beatty* in the magazine Sky and Telescope, “Each night nitrate radicals (NO3), a compound destroyed by sunlight, build up in the darkened sky. As city dwellers sleep, it neutralizes some of the harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) that foul the daytime air and lead to wheeze-inducing levels of ozone (O3). New research shows that this nightly cleansing action isn’t as effective as it could be — because nitrate radicals are being destroyed by light beamed into the sky by outdoor lighting on the ground.” This hidden issue could quickly become more main stream as scientists build the connection between air and light pollution.
The light pollution given off from the newly built North Campus Parking Garage on the University of Utah Campus had severe consequences for the nearby astronomical observatory, located directly south of the parking garage. The observatory is open to both students and the public for star parties on Wednesday nights. Although the nearby garage had dark-sky fixtures, the structure was designed with large openings. According to Bill Leach, Energy Manager for Facilities Management, it was indirect glare from the top of the parking garage that was causing the problem. Anil Seth, a professor in the physics and astronomy department, contacted Bill to discuss the difficulties that the new lights were causing on the observatory. Finding a solution that mitigates light pollution and promotes safety and security on campus is a work in progress, however they have been able to collaborate and substantially decrease glare for the observatory.
If you look around campus you will see large glowing orb lighting fixtures begin to disappear, slowly replaced by LED light fixtures angled down towards the pavement. Appropriate lighting cuts glare and directs light, which leads to safer spaces and a more effective use of energy. The fight against light pollution can seem never-ending, especially in a large urban area like Salt Lake. If the relationship between the Physics Observatory and Facilities Management teaches us anything, it is that open and cooperative communication will open the door to mutually beneficial solutions.
As the benefits of dark skies become more apparent and well-known, light pollution mitigation is going to be an important part of environmental dispute resolution dialogue. The University of Utah is already paving the way for changing the way we light our spaces by creating a new campus standard light, as well as starting the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, the first ever academic center dedicated to discovering, developing, communicating and applying knowledge pertaining to the quality of the night skies.
In order to protect dark skies, we must utilize resources provided by organizations like the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative and the International Dark Sky Association. It goes without saying that the greater problems of light pollution must be solved through collaboration not just on our campuses, but in our communities, cities, regions, states, and countries. Dark skies are integral to science, art, philosophy, and our shared human heritage. I am hopeful that in future years I will be able to look up toward the sky of Salt Lake City and teach others the many constellations I have learned – without having to leave the valley.
*Beatty, Kelly. “Night Lights Worsen Smog.” Sky and Telescope, 15 Dec. 2010, http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/night-lights-worsen-smog/
Check out this link for the original article with a video interview with Emily Moench, Public Relations Manager for the Utah Office of Tourism.
FOX 13 NEWS, MARCH 29, 2017, BY LAURA ALLEN
With Cedar Breaks National Monument just being granted International Dark Sky Park designation, an honor reserved for the darkest skies and the most stunning starscapes, Utah is now home to eight of the nation's sixteen parks. Emily Moench with Visit Utah talked about these parks and some stargazing events you can go to.
Dark Sky Parks In Utah
• Cedar Breaks National Monument: Cedar Breaks National Monument received its Dark Sky Certification in March 2017. The park is situated in one of the largest regions of remaining natural darkness in the lower 48 U.S., and leadership has seized this opportunity to provide an expanding array of education and outreach opportunities across southern Utah.
• Goblin Valley State Park: Goblin Valley State Park received the Gold Dark Sky Certification in September 2016.The Park's location in a remote corner of the Colorado Plateau and away from major urban centers yields a dark-sky resource that is comparable in quality to several Gold-tier IDA Dark Sky Parks in the region. The park has the darkest skies yet recorded by the IDSA.
• Canyonlands National Park: Visitors from all over the world are invited to attend night sky programs at the Island in the Sky and Needles districts of the park where rangers use storytelling and telescopes to introduce the wonders of the universe to park visitors.
• Capitol Reef National Park: Despite serving over 830,000 visitors in 2014, Capitol Reef has largely resisted infrastructure development and instead offers visitors a rustic experience. As a consequence there is very little artificial lighting in the park, so visitors experience a night that is remarkably close to what it would have been in the pioneer era.
• Weber County North Fork Park: Weber County North Fork Park is one of Utah's newest International Dark Sky Parks, receiving official designation just last year. North Fork Park has four qualities that sets it apart from many other Dark Sky Parks: urban adjacency, intense focus on wildlife, an extensive outreach program and innovative public art incorporating dark skies themes.
• Natural Bridges National Monument: Natural Bridges National Monument, which was named the world's first International Dark Sky Park in 2007, is one of the darkest parks in the country according to a comprehensive study of night sky quality by the National Park Service.
• Hovenweep National Monument: Home to ruins of six prehistoric villages built between 1200 and 1300 A.D., Hovenweep is open 24 hours a day to give visitors a convenient place to view the primeval darkness in a condition similar to that seen by its 13th century inhabitants.
• Dead Horse Point State Park: The 5,362-acre park offers stunning views of the adjacent Canyonlands National Park, an International Dark Sky Park, and an iconic gooseneck bend in the Colorado River. Immense vertical cliffs meet with canyons carved by ice, water and wind creating a visual masterpiece. The park's position above the canyon walls makes for spectacular, virtually unobstructed, views of the night sky with sweeping, 360-degree panoramas. Dead Horse Point State Park receiving the designation in June 2016.
• Bryce Canyon National Park Astronomy Festival: The 17th Annual Astronomy Festival at Bryce Canyon, June 21-24, 2017, will feature four days of solar viewing, building and launching model rockets, constellation tours and stargazing through huge telescopes.
• Cedar Breaks National Monument Star Parties: Guests can observe swirling nebulae, twinkling star clusters, neighborly plants and distant galaxies through several different telescopes at one of Cedar Breaks' free star parties, every Saturday evening from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
• Celestial Adventure: Visitors looking to add more adventure to their stargazing experience can take a full moon lift ride up the mountains at Sundance Resort or trek through the wilderness on a full moon hike - many of Utah`s national and state parks even offer ranger-led hikes.
By: Colter Dye, Sustainability Ambassador.
March 29, 2017
Courtesy of Bettymaya Foott.
Bridging the borders of three great North American ecosystems: the Great Basin, the Colorado Plateau, and the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City is a popular destination for wildlife enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and those seeking to connect to the natural world. While snow-capped mountain peaks, vast red deserts, and tree-filled canyons are majestic, one of the most awe-inspiring views comes from glimpsing an arm of the Milky Way Galaxy against a deep blue night sky.
Maintaining a view of our dark skies has implications beyond the inspirational connection to the universe, it is also vital to the health and safety of humans and wildlife as well as our respective ecosystems, which often overlap. The new Consortium for Dark Sky Studies at the University of Utah hopes to preserve access to dark skies.
Formal recognition of the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies (CDSS) was made official last month by the University of Utah, a strategic location for the CDSS as Salt Lake City is central to what Stephen Goldsmith, co-director of the CDSS and associate professor of city and metropolitan planning calls the “Great Starry Way.”
“This portion of the West, basically Montana down to New Mexico, is what I would call the Great Starry Way. These are the darkest places left in the developed world – That’s on the planet, on the Earth!” remarked Goldsmith.
Courtesy of Bettymaya Foott.
Many migratory birds, including thrushes, wrens, orioles, black birds, cuckoos, tanagers, and most species of sparrow, make the majority of their seasonal migrations during the nighttime hours. Species may migrate during the nighttime hours to avoid daytime predators, maximize foraging time during the day, navigate using the moon or constellations, or to prevent their bodies from overheating due to hours of wing flapping. These species now have to navigate new challenges in nighttime migration caused by the constant blaring lights emitted from human settlements.
Flocks of birds may mistake these glowing metropoles for the shining light of the moon or they may be unable to see the constellations they use to navigate because they are muted by the glowing artificial lights. Other birds seem to mistake gleaming glass windows for the surface of water reflecting moonlight. The fate of many of these birds ends with disorientation or confusion leading to missed navigational points, exhaustion, or a quick demise as they collide with buildings. Each year, in North America alone, anywhere between 365 million and 1 billion birds die from collisions with buildings.
Migrating birds are not the only wildlife affected. Many species of frogs wait for cues from the night sky and the moon to cue their breeding rituals of croaking and calling to find a mate. Nocturnal insects are fatally attracted to artificial lights, preventing them from breeding naturally and making them vulnerable to nighttime predators. On the warmer coasts of the world, baby sea turtles search for the twinkling lights of the moon and stars being reflected on the ocean, but are instead drawn toward the glowing lights of roads and cities, leading them to a certain death by car, dehydration, or predation.
Humans are also physiologically ruled by the regular pattern of night and day. Exposure to artificial light at night negatively affects the human circadian rhythm which not only affects sleep cycles but also the production of important hormones which regulate vital biological processes. These changes have been linked to depression, obesity, as well as breast and prostate cancers. While most cities have had ordinances in place for many years to regulate noise pollution, very few have paid any attention to the important consequences of light trespass and pollution.
The work of the CDSS will help to fill this gap. CDSS affiliates come from many departments of the University of Utah, as well as community, government, and industry partners. Tracy Aviary is an advisor for the CDSS.
Beginning in April of 2016, Tracy Aviary began implementing a strategic campaign to decrease light pollution in Salt Lake County, Utah, by holding a series of ‘migration moonwatch’ events to educate the public about the impact of light pollution on migrating birds. In 2017, the Aviary will expand the program to include strategic data collection on birds that strike buildings as a result of light pollution in Salt Lake’s urban core. Building off of strategies from other successful dark skies projects such as FLAP and “lights out,” the Aviary developed the Salt Lake Avian Collision Survey (SLACS), a citizen science project where volunteers will walk early morning survey routes during the migration season to search for and collect data on birds that had collided with lighted buildings overnight. Information collected by SLACS will help target photon reduction strategies and build public support for a “lights out for migration” initiative in Salt Lake.
This kind of period of decreased artificial light benefits human communities as well as birds and other wildlife. It reduces the consumption of fossil fuels that are used to power unnecessary lights, potentially saving billions of dollars and reducing pollutant emissions by many tons. It also allows humans living in urban areas to reconnect with the night sky and enjoy the Milky Way, which some people may not have seen for many years and some children may have never seen in their lives. Many communities are even using these lights out periods to host festivals celebrating the night sky, uniting divided populations, and teaching citizens about the wonders of astronomy.
With its placement on the foothills of the Wasatch Mountain Range, University of Utah’s campus is one of the only college campuses in the United States that provides a direct connection to wild, undeveloped land and the opportunity for encounters with the natural world. Our special connection to and awareness of the natural world makes our campus the ideal place to continue research on the values of reducing light pollution and implementing practices to restore dark skies to our campus and Salt Lake City.
Colter Dye is an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation through the Bachelor of University Studies program at the University of Utah. He is a Sustainability Ambassador for the Sustainability Office at the University of Utah. He is also a Conservation Science Intern at Tracy Aviary and an affiliate of the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies at the University of Utah.
SLACS is a citizen science research initiative whose aim is to better understand the effects of Salt Lake City’s light pollution on migrating bird populations. By surveying urban areas which pose the greatest potential risks to migrating birds, we can begin to understand the magnitude of the issue and initiate mitigations of those risks.
Photos by Bettymaya Foott. @bettymaya.foott
From the rim of Cedar Breaks National Monument on clear, moon-less nights, around 5,000 stars can be seen above this deep-red geological amphitheater.
On a recent tour, Dave Sorensen, one of the park's "dark rangers," described how the forces of erosion have hollowed out the iron-rich sediments left by Lake Claron.
"Since the lake has been gone this area we know as Cedar Breaks has been eroding out for the last 20 million years. It erodes at a rate of 1 to 4 feet a century. To a geologist, that's a very rapid rate," Sorensen said. "Cedar Breaks will continue getting larger and large as times go by."
In the very short-term, the star-encrusted view above could also erode as the forces of urbanization bring more artificial light to the Cedar Valley. To raise awareness of one of nature's greatest displays, Cedar Breaks has been designated an International Dark Sky Park, the seventh in Utah to win this honor. Park officials invite the public to a star-gazing celebration Saturday night at Brian Head Ski Resort, which has partnered with Cedar Breaks on astronomy events in the winter when the town is humming with activity while the park is snowbound.
"It's something everybody enjoys," said Brian Head owner John Grissinger. "For city people, you can't see the stars. You don't know it. Everybody here is amazed, but if you don't bring awareness people don't understand the importance of protecting dark skies. There is very little of it left."
Aside from the light emitted from flames, darkness was the norm at night for most of humanity's existence. But in the 137 years since electric light bulbs hit the market, artificial lighting has become so invasive that it is now considered "pollution." Today, about 80 percent of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way from their homes thanks to the luminous glow hanging over every city.
In the past decade, the value of dark skies have gained more recognition, which the Tuscon, Ariz.-basedInternational Dark-Sky Association has been promoting with designations and lighting technologies that use spectra that minimize disruption to the darkness and direct light away from the sky.
President Barack Obama called out dark skies in his Dec. 28 proclamation setting aside Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County.
"The star-filled nights and natural quiet of the Bears Ears area transport visitors to an earlier eon. Against an absolutely black night sky, our galaxy and others more distant leap into view," states the proclamation. But this celebration of starry views did not impress Utah legislative leaders, who cited Obama's references to seemingly ubiquitous phenomenon, such as skunks, soil and stars, to back their claim the monument designation was not warranted. San Juan County leaders rejected a proposal to apply for designation as a dark-sky community, fearing that it would pave the way for unwanted restrictions on lighting.
But plenty of others believe dark skies are a precious resource and are trying to figure how to restore it, along with our ability to wonder and solve entrenched problems vexing the world today, according to University of Utah metropolitan planning professor Stephen Goldsmith.
"One of the crises of our time is a crisis of imagination. We used to look up and ask, 'Who am I?' Instead of looking up, we're looking down at our phones, looking for constellations in our apps. Preserving the dark skies allows us to reconnect with our Milky Way," said Goldsmith, who co-directs the U.'s new Consortium for Dark Sky Studies with physics professor Dave Kieda.
Cedar Breaks now joins six other Utah parks that are official Dark Sky Parks. The others are Natural Bridges and Hovenweep national monument, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks, Goblin and Dead Horse Point state parks, and Weber County's North Fork Park. Many others have applications pending.
The IDA confers three tiers of certification--gold, silver and bronze--depending on the darkness of its night skies. Cedar Breaks won the silver, while its sister Utah monument Natural Bridges, located in the new Bears Ears National Monument, earned the world's first Dark Sky Park honor with a gold in 2007.
The Colorado Plateau is at the very heart of what Goldsmith calls the Starry Way, the Interior West's mountainous region running through Utah where light pollution is the least pervasive thanks to remoteness and high elevation.
"Ninety percent is public land, it's high and dry, low population. You couldn't make a more perfect recipe for dark skies," said Bettymaya Foott, coordinator for the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative. She has written dark-sky designation applications for a dozen Utah state parks, many of them on the Wasatch Back close to urban centers.
A few years ago, Cedar Breaks climbed aboard the dark-sky bandwagon and began offering weekly star-gazing events.
"Our mission is to preserve the natural and cultural resources and we realize that the night sky that an increasing number of people are coming to national parks specifically to see. It's getting harder to see in other places," said Zach Schierl, Cedar Breaks dark-sky coordinator. "A lot of people are seeking out dark skies when they go on vacations and they are coming here to southern Utah. A lot are experiencing a sky darker than they've ever seen before. It has a really powerful impact."
Schierl developed Cedar Breaks' "Master Astronomer" program that he is currently teaching at Southern Utah University and hopes to expand around the state. The summertime programs he leads have grown in popularity, now drawing between 200 and 300 park visitors.
At 10,000 feet above sea level, the Markagunt Plateau is the top step of the Grand Staircase, the landscape that falls away to the southeast and bottoms out in the Grand Canyon. Eroding from the Markagunt's top layer, Cedar Breaks forms the leading edge of the Colorado Plateau where it meets the Great Basin. It is sculpted from the same lakebed deposits that produced Bryce Canyon's famed hoodoos, towers and walls to the east.
Looking up, Dave Sorensen's favorite astronomical feature visible from Cedar Breaks is a deep-sky object called M42, or also known as the Orion Nebula, found in the constellation named for the mythical hunter Orion. This cluster of nascent stars and luminous gases can be found in the hunter's sword hanging from the southside of his familiar three-star belt.
Preserving such views is central to the National Park Service's mission, but the agency can't accomplished that goal on its own, according to Goldsmith. Nearby cities have a role to play. Utah park gateway towns of Torrey and Springdale have already enacted lighting ordinances to protect dark skies, while Moab and Page, Ariz. have ordinances in the works. Cedar City is beginning to consider steps to curb stray lighting.
About 67% of land in Utah is federally owned — the second highest percentage in the nation — making the state uniquely positioned to host studies of the dark sky.
‘The disappearing dark,’ a phrase used to describe a sky that is becoming increasingly polluted by light, is an issue the Consortium for Dark Skies Studies (CDSS) will explore in its new facility at the University of Utah.
“We have among the darkest skies remaining in the developed world,” Stephen Goldsmith, co-director of CDSS said.