Consortium for Dark Skies Studies Reaches New Heights

This article was written by Jacqueline Mumford and originally posted by the Daily Utah Chronicle on March 19, 2018.

Many Salt Lake City residents can’t remember the last time they saw the Milky Way or even the stars.

The Consortium for Dark Skies Studies (CDSS) at the University of Utah is the first academic center in the world dedicated to bringing together scholars, researchers and academics from numerous departments and fields of study to work together on an overlooked issue — light pollution. CDSS, housed in the College of Architecture and Planning at the U, is the nucleus of dark sky research for all of Utah. As it looks toward the future, it hopes to be a national center for dark sky research throughout the country.

The Importance of Dark Skies

The idea for CDSS started as a manila folder on John Barentine’s desk.

“There wasn’t really a focus on this subject as an academic research subject — there were regional centers in different parts of Europe, but they were kind of all over the place because the subject of light pollution is highly interdisciplinary,” Barentine said, who is now the director of conservation for the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) and a member of the steering committee for CDSS. “The people who were making direct measurements of light pollution from satellites didn’t really know the people who were looking at impacts of light pollution on animal populations, [and those people] didn’t know any of the humanities people who were studying this from the human interaction perspective.”

Light pollution is the brightening of the night sky by man-made constructs, such as street lights and buildings. In places where light pollution is prevalent the stars are not easily visible, which is a phenomenon dubbed “disappearing dark.” This loss of dark skies presents a number of negative impacts on both human beings and organisms in surrounding ecosystems. The first problem, according to Stephen Goldsmith, acting co-director of CDSS and associate professor of city and metropolitan planning at the U, is the crisis of imagination.

“If we lose our access to being able to look up and imagine, ‘Who are we? Where are we? What is this incredible blue planet in the cosmos?’ the more that we lose our imagination, the more that we may lose our ability to be creatively responsive to challenges,” Goldsmith said. “There’s this emotional connection that we have to the dark sky.”

Another major issue that arises from the growing loss of dark skies is the migration patterns of other animals.

“There are many creatures whose navigation is dependent on their ability to use the coordinates of the dark sky to move through the world, whether it’s sea turtles or birds,” Goldsmith said. “Bird migration is terribly disrupted because of artificial light, and birds are an important part of our ecosystem.”

Public health issues are also created and affected by light pollution. Artificial lighting, specifically LED light, has been proven to cause sleep deprivation, throw off circadian rhythms, decrease attention spans and more through increased and sustained exposure. Goldsmith said light pollution plays a role in one of Salt Lake City’s biggest challenges — air pollution.

“We’re doing more research on the connection between light and air pollution due to a chemical reaction that happens between artificial light and the pollutants in the air, which actually makes those pollutants more toxic,” Goldsmith said. “When we have an inversion, the combination of the pollutants and artificial light actually creates a different kind of pollution.”

Protecting Dark Skies

CDSS addresses the problems caused by light pollution from many different angles: scientific, cultural, planning and architectural. It boasts more than 25 partners locally, nationally and globally, including the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Since receiving formal recognition in February, 2017, CDSS has grown in both size and in impact. In November 2018, CDSS will host the Artificial Light at Night (ALAN) conference, the annual meeting for a Europe-based organization of researchers and scientists to discuss the work that has been done and the work that continues to push the research forward. Also in November, CDSS will host the annual meeting for IDA, which is the authority on light pollution and the main organization focused on limiting light pollution worldwide.

CDSS has begun working with Utah’s Community Development Office to put together a “tool kit” for educating the public on the increased quality of life that comes with more dark skies and the importance of tourism in relation to the dark skies. These budding relationships are only the beginning for CDSS, which is looking to expand outside of Utah’s borders.

“My organization, IDA, will continue to be the activists that are out there pushing policymakers toward deciding certain things, but I would like the consortium to be viewed as a center or a source of reliable and objective information,” Barentine said. “CDSS should help people make objective decisions, especially on the policy front, and just inform individuals generally, even those who are not in a position to make decisions, because they’re voters and consumers and parents who are still making decisions on a more micro-scale.”

Utah was chosen as the center point for the organization for many reasons, but a major factor in the decision was the state’s unique positioning as one of the regions in the world with the most IDA-designated dark sky parks.

According to IDA’s website, an International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) is land, public or private, that “possess[es] an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment.”

Those who visit these IDSP locations in Utah, including Canyonlands National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Antelope Island State Park and more, will have the opportunity to see uninterrupted dark skies that are not visible in the cities and surrounding areas.

A comprehensive list of where to see dark skies in Utah or across the globe can be found at

“We have this wonderful geographic infrastructure, where no place else in the developed world this many people have access to the dark sky,” Goldsmith said.


On the Hunt for Stars: In Search of a Truly Dark Night Sky

This article is from Sierra Magazine's March/April 2018 Issue. It was written by Heather Smith and originally posted on February 27th, 2018. View the original article here. The thumbnail image is courtesy of Harun Mehmedinovic and appeared in the original article.


WHEN I WAS A KID, someone gave me a copy of Find the Constellations, the classic kids' stargazing book by H.A. Rey. I read it with great intensity but little understanding. The night sky seen from my Metro Detroit backyard looked nothing like the illustrations in the book. The only constellations I could spot consistently were the obvious ones: Orion and the Big Dipper. 

My generation was the first in my family to live this way. When my mom was a child, her neighborhood was thick with stars. My grandparents had bought a house on the edge of Detroit so they could grow crops and still live close enough to the metropolis to work in the factories. When my mom walked through the fields on her way to school, pheasants would burst out of the grass in front of her. The city lights were still far enough away that the night sky was a star riot. 


Tell Your Mayor: Protect the Night Against Light Pollution

Tackle light pollution and protect the night

The house in which my mom grew up was one of two that the family lost to eminent domain as Metro Detroit's suburban ambitions spread outward in the 1960s. The house's remains were buried under a parking lot near I-75, something that my mom would comment on, casually, whenever we parked on top of it. 

By the time I came around, the area was an Escher maze of malls, parking lots, and drive-through fast-food joints lit up bright enough to lure cars from the nearby freeway. Every few years, a pheasant would appear in our backyard looking confused. The stars were history.

During my lifetime, the world has gotten even brighter. The gas station down the street from my San Francisco apartment is lit up like an alien landing site at all hours. Affordable LED lights enabled my neighbors to install individual ones on every step leading up to their porch, as if hoping that Busby Berkeley would stop by and choreograph a dance number. Every night, the skyscrapers downtown light up like Christmas tree ornaments. 

It seems like it's always been this way. It hasn't. Electricity's eclipse of the nightly firmament is a distinctly modern phenomenon. Being the first in my family to grow up without stars comes with a particular kind of territory: I'm the first to think that stars are anything special. The once-ordinary is now spectacular. 

I came to this realization late. It didn't really strike me until last summer, when I, like millions of others, went on a quest to see some darkness: specifically, a few minutes when the moon would cover the sun during broad daylight.

To get to a place where I would be able to see Earth's personal star go dark, I traveled hundreds of miles. I crossed multiple state lines. I listened to "Total Eclipse of the Heart" many, many times. Finally, I was in Idaho. 

There was a galaxy out there. A huge galaxy. Our galaxy.

When the eclipse came to pass and the sky darkened to a purplish black, the oohs and aahs of hundreds of people filled the air. The campers around us had been acting nonchalant, but now that we were all together in the dark, wonder was afoot. I took off my eclipse glasses and gazed at the burning ring in the sky. It looked like a tiny live-action heavy metal album cover. It was very cool.

But it made me wonder: What else were the stars and planets doing? Why had I applied this level of obsessive road-tripping to see the moon slide over the sun like a lid over a pot when I had never even tried to see what was actually going on up there on a clear, dark night? With a little planning, I could be seeing galaxies. So I began a second quest, one in search of a night sky like the one that my grandparents had grown up with.

It turned out to be much harder than I imagined.

THE FIRST PEOPLE WHO HAD ACCESS TO public lighting didn't seem to miss the night much. "Most of the crimes against person and property are committed at night in darkness," a reporter for the Pittsburgh Gazette Times wrote in 1911. "It is a wise local administrative policy that looks kindly upon liberal use of electric lamps for street lighting, particularly in those sections of a large city where crooks like to hide. A sufficiently lighted city is always attractive, well-advertised, and of course progressive."

Cities were so eager to be illuminated that they moved restlessly from one technology to another. Oil lamps were replaced by gaslights, which were replaced by structures called "moon towers," which cities ran on evenings when the moon wasn't full. The towers, which were lit by arcs of raw electricity, were built as high as possible, both because they were so bright and because shorter versions had a history of electrocuting people who used them to light cigars.

In the United States of the late 19th century, Detroit had the most comprehensive moon tower system—122 towers covering 21 square miles of downtown. They ultimately fell out of favor because the towers cast strange shadows and, with the advent of the skyscraper, they weren't tall enough to effectively light the streets. Detroit sold its moon towers to Austin, Texas, where they still stand (minus the original arc lighting), woven into a city that is now so illuminated that they are barely noticeable anymore.

The moon towers were replaced by lightbulbs. Of all the technologies that have left their stamp on America, the lightbulb has become synonymous with innovation itself—a cartoon shorthand for genius and insight. I grew up taking regular field trips to a replica of the Menlo Park, New Jersey, workshop where Thomas Edison had tinkered with the carbon-thread incandescent lamp. The replica was part of a village that Henry Ford, our homegrown automobile magnate, had built to serve as an artifact of preindustrial America. On these visits, we were shown how to make hand-dipped candles. "Imagine," the bonnet-clad docent said, "that this was your only source of light, and you had to make enough to last your parents for an entire month." No, I couldn't imagine it. 

I also couldn't imagine a world where light was exciting. In her book about the history of artificial light, Brilliant, Jane Brox writes that as Edison's workshop began to have success with the lightbulb in 1879, wagons full of people—farmers, visitors from the city—began to show up at the laboratory to see the new lights. Once the visitors started showing up by the thousands, Edison stopped letting them inside the factory. They still came—they just stood out on the lawn instead.  

Brox describes a funeral for a kerosene lamp held by the Adams Electric Cooperative, in Pennsylvania. "Buried here May 3, 1941," the eulogy read, "as a symbol of the drudgery and toil which its member families bore far longer than was necessary or right." Some farms, newly electrified, left their lights on all night in glee. Other farmers took their old oil lamps outside and smashed them.

People quickly habituated to each leap forward in lighting technology. During World War II, German bombers used London's lights as a navigational tool. In the city's first defensive blackout, Brox writes, Londoners found that they were so dependent on lighting that many couldn't find their own homes in the dark. Some people wandered into trees and canals.

When my grandparents were children, electricity was distant and urbane—it didn't work its way out to the countryside until the Roosevelt-era Rural Electrification Administration. My mother's parents met as teenagers on the migrant farmworker circuit, and their stories from that time were not about stars but about darkness. Darkness, in their telling, was not a good thing. In one story, they stopped by the side of the road to sleep on their way to the next job. It was a moonless night, and they kept stumbling over encampments made by other sleeping travelers.

If I ever went back to that roadside, I would probably find it lined with LED billboards. According to one scientific paper, the United States, on average, became 6 percent brighter each year between 1947 and 2000. To experience the kind of night sky my grandparents saw regularly, my best bet was to go to one of the national or state parks designated as an "International Dark Sky Park"—a certification developed by the International Dark-Sky Association, which was founded by two astronomers in the late 1980s. The idea behind the dark-sky parks is simple: The night sky is a natural resource that deserves preservation every bit as much as, say, watersheds or wildlife corridors. To be certified as a dark-sky park, a place needs to make basic infrastructure fixes, like shielding its lights so that they shine only on the ground, rather than into the atmosphere. A dark-sky park also needs to contribute to making its own little corner of the world a darker place by educating visitors about its nighttime modifications and monitoring, and by working with nearby municipalities and other potential allies on a night-friendly lighting code. 

Figuring out which dark-sky park to visit was tricky. Joshua Tree has dark-sky status, but the western edge of the park glows with the night haze of Palm Springs and Los Angeles (though the eastern edge still manages to be one of the darkest places in California).

After much deliberation, I decided on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The national park's dark-sky status was still in the provisional stages (the park has until 2019 to retrofit all of its lighting fixtures), but if it failed to impress me with its darkness, I could always drive on to Bryce Canyon, which claimed to be one of the three darkest places in America accessible by paved road.

IT WAS A LONG DRIVE FROM San Francisco to northern Arizona, so I stopped in Las Vegas. The lights there were so bright and so insistent that they seemed almost like a natural phenomenon, and in one sense, they were. After Hoover Dam was finished in the 1930s, the then-tiny city had access to so much electricity that it cloaked itself in neon.

Wandering around Vegas on the way to a dark-sky park was the sensory equivalent of eating a tower of donuts the day before Lent. Downtown, much of Fremont Street was covered with a giant canopy—basically a fake sky—made of LED lights. The sky oscillated between images of prisms turning into birds, then flames, and casino advertisements. Nearby was a 12-story slot machine that sold $25 zip-line rides underneath the fake sky.

The next morning, on my way out of town, I stopped by the Neon Museum. The sun was so bright that the museum provided parasols for visitors. All around me, ancient signs leaned up against each other like companionable, sun-bleached giants: a single flamingo feather from the old Flamingo Hotel, a gold nugget glittering with incandescent bulbs. The museum has been taking junked neon signs, fixing them up, and reinstalling them in spots near downtown. When Las Vegas is unearthed by the archaeologists of the future, it will be fairly clear what we worshiped.

When I arrived at the Grand Canyon later that day, it felt almost as busy as the Vegas Strip. But as the sun set, the trail cleared out until I was all by myself, walking a narrow footpath along the edge of the mile-deep gorge. After a while, I realized something weird: The sun had set, but it wasn't getting any darker. I looked up and immediately saw what was to blame—the moon. The freaking full moon.

In kids' picture books, the moon and the stars hang out in the same illustrations like perfect pals. In real life, this huge moon was a diva so bright that only the strongest, brightest stars could even try to make an appearance. In my attempt to spend more time with the night sky in all its splendor, I had revealed how little I knew about even the most basic celestial rhythms. The planets and stars and I have never been on very familiar terms.

"Maybe if I fall asleep, the stars will come out," I thought. "Is the moon really going to be such a big deal at 3 A.M.?"

The moon was a big deal at 3 A.M. It was so bright that it made the Grand Canyon look fake, like a diorama in a museum of natural history. At this point, there was nothing to do other than enjoy the experience of seeing an icon of the American landscape lit up like a parking lot.

As I wandered around outside my lodge, I looked for examples of the dark-sky-friendly lighting that I'd been reading so much about. All the outdoor lighting had a warm, yellowish glow and some kind of cover to keep the light focused on the paths around the lodge and the cabins. Many of the lights were designed to look old, but even the ones that weren't had a retro quality, because they were covered. In the past, lamps were covered because the light they generated was precious and expensive and we only wanted it to glow in one direction. Now we were using shaded lamps to preserve the darkness. The only bright spot in the whole human firmament was the dish room behind the kitchen and a Pepsi machine, which glowed near the visitor center like an artifact from outer space. The front of the machine was printed with a giant photo of the Grand Canyon, as though trying to disguise itself.

I looked at the few stars I could see and tried to feel grateful.

LOSING THE NIGHT SKY IS NOT just an issue of nostalgia or aesthetics. We, like most of the other creatures on this planet, evolved to use night and day as cues to regulate our physiology. The near-constant presence of artificial light affects humans and other species in unnerving ways.

Researchers have found that women who work the late shift have a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer. This may be because exposure to blue light (the spectrum often emitted by neon lights) can lead to decreased melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that, among other things, helps suppress the body's nocturnal production of estrogen—and too much estrogen has been shown, in some studies, to increase the risk of cancer. A global study of cancer data from 158 countries found an elevated risk of lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers in areas where artificial lighting is common, even after other environmental factors like air pollution were taken into account.

The effects on wildlife are even more clear. Artificial lighting has a documented history of messing with bird migration, baby-turtle survival, salmon spawning, and lightning-bug sex. This is largely because many species evolved to use the moon as part of their navigation system—not the moon plus a coastal hotel development.

Scientists learned about these effects on wildlife the hard way. In the mid-20th century, office buildings began leaving their lights on all night. New fluorescent lights brought dramatic reductions in lighting bills, and it was ridiculously pretty to see downtown skylines lit up so brightly. Then some cities, including Chicago, discovered that they had built their skyscrapers in the center of migratory-bird corridors. Many species of songbirds migrate at night and use the moon and the constellations as guides. The lit-up buildings disoriented the birds, causing them to either slam into the buildings or circle them until they dropped from exhaustion. During peak migration, workers would arrive to find the sidewalks littered with dead warblers and thrushes. 


Getting precise numbers is difficult because many casualties are eaten by predators before anyone spots them, but an estimated 365 million to 988 million birds are killed by colliding with windows in the United States annually, and many of those collisions happen at night. Dave Willard, an ornithologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago who catalogs the migratory birds that are discovered dead on Chicago's streets, has found that a building that turns off its lights at night reduces its death toll by as much as 80 percent. One of the most notorious bird killers in the area, a convention center on the shores of Lake Michigan, saw yearly casualties drop from a high of 2,400 in the early 1990s to a sixth of that once it reduced the number of lights left on at night.

Successes like this happen, but so do new problems. Every September, New York City's Tribute in Light creates two four-mile-high pillars of light near the site of the old World Trade Center, in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. Migratory songbirds like American redstarts, blue warblers, and wood thrushes become trapped in the beams' glare. Today, volunteers from the National Audubon Society monitor the light towers to guard against bird deaths. Every time an exhausted bird plummets to the ground, or the count of circling birds reaches 1,000, the volunteers alert the September 11 Memorial, which shuts off the lights for 20 minutes to give the birds time to move on. In 2015, Tribute in Light had to be shut down eight times.

Around the world, cities are switching over to LED lights, which are vastly more energy efficient than the incandescent bulbs and sodium-vapor lights they replace. But while the LEDs are better from an energy and climate change perspective, they are very likely worse for wildlife and human health. LEDs typically emit a bluish tone (though there are ones that cast a more yellow light), and that makes them even more competitive with the moon, giving them the potential to kill even more wildlife than their predecessors. In the summer of 2016, the American Medical Association declared LED streetlights—which made up 10 percent of America's supply at the time—to be a public-health risk because of their potential effect on human circadian rhythms.


A FEW WEEKS AFTER MY POORLY TIMED TRIP to the Grand Canyon, I set out for another dark-sky park: Death Valley. I was headed for the Eureka Dunes, a place that I'd been to briefly, years ago, after one of the most harrowing, boulder-riddled drives of my life. But when I set up camp near the entrance of the park the evening of my arrival, I thought the sky looked strange. Hazy. Not like the desert skies that I remembered at all.

The next morning, a park ranger cleared up my confusion. "Yup, it's the wildfires," he said. Two weeks earlier, some of the worst wildfires in California history had broken out in Northern California. The smoke blanketed the Bay Area for a week before clearing. But some of the haze had moved southward on the winds.

"What about the Eureka Dunes?" I asked. "Those will be clear, right?" The ranger looked at me with gentle pity.

The only solution, other than to quit, was to try to get above the smoke. The highest campground in Death Valley is Thorndike, 7,400 feet above sea level and reached via a very bumpy dirt road. I decided to go for it. When I reached the rustic campsite set at the top of the road, I could see smoke lying over the valley like a pancake—a thick cloud made of the angry ghosts of burnt subdivisions.

The problem with Thorndike, though, was it was a whole season colder up there, and I hadn't come prepared. Neither, it turned out, had a lot of other people at the campground. On my way back from the bathroom before bed, I saw two men sitting in the cab of a truck with its engine running, eating ramen and looking miserable. I wasn't feeling much better, but I was determined to tough it out and had put on every single article of clothing I had packed, one on top of the other. It took what felt like forever to get warm enough to fall asleep. When the alarm went off at 3 A.M., I unzipped the tent window and looked out.

There was a galaxy out there. A huge galaxy. Our galaxy. There were stars beyond count, an infinity of worlds whose names I did not know.

I thought of that line from The Great Gatsby when Nick Carraway looks out across the water and goes on about how he almost imagines how interesting the world was when it was a wilder place, about what it must have been like for man to be "face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder." Nick Carraway clearly needed to get out more.

I stood there, shivering, for hours, taking it all in.

This article appeared in the March/April 2018 edition with the headline "Dark Matters."

First recorded use of street lamps
Fourth-century-A.D., Antioch, in what was then Syria. "For here at least, sleep is no lord of mankind," wrote the Greek academic Libanius.

Distance from which the nighttime glow of Los Angeles is visible on a clear night
270 miles

Possible reduction in U.S. nighttime electricity use if dark-sky-friendly lighting were more broadly implemented
20 to 50%

Amount of money this would save per year
$10 billion

Number of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions this would prevent
44 million

Annual increase in brightness of Earth's cities at night from 2012 to 2016

Percentage increase in car collisions and crime after cities in England and Wales began dimming their streetlights to save money

Percentage of vertebrates threatened by outdoor lighting

Percentage of invertebrates threatened by outdoor lighting


Countries with the most pristine night skies
Chad, Central African Republic, Madagascar

Countries with the greatest levels of light pollution
Kuwait, Singapore, Qatar

Estimated number of birds killed on the night of August 22, 1887, after being trapped in the glow of the newly electrified torch held by the Statue of Liberty


Percentage of people in Europe and the U.S. who experience some form of light pollution

Percentage of North Americans who can't see the Milky Way from where they live

Ask your city's mayor to join the effort to preserve a dark sky and reduce light pollution in your community:  

Join the Sierra Club's Grassroots Network team dedicated to night-sky conservation:

Take a Sierra Club trip to Death Valley or the Grand Canyon. Details at

Check out our guide to some of the darkest places in the United States and around the world:

Copy of Copy of Let there Be Darkness

Article originally posted on February 6, 2018 by the Nicholas School of the Environment- Duke University, written by Bill Schlesinger 


As primates, humans evolved as a daylight species.  In the developed world, we now regularly subject ourselves to longer days through artificial lighting. Nights are also destined to become brighter as energy-saving LED lights replace the incandescent streetlights of Thomas Edison.  As with the addition of novel substances to our air and water, the addition of light to the environment can be regarded as a pollutant. Indeed, documentation of the effects of light pollution are accumulating so rapidly that the subject now has its own acronym—ALAN—for artificial light at night.  I have blogged on the impacts of light pollution before; this is an update.  See:

It is not surprising that many of the first studies of light pollution focused on migratory birds, which normally use astronomical light to orient their travel.  As the night sky becomes brighter, birds get disoriented.   Many are attracted to urban areas, and a significant number succumb to collisions with tall skyscrapers and radio towers that are lighted at night.  As roads proliferate on the landscape, streetlights do as well.  We are converting much of our habitat to a world of 24-hour activity.

Studies of birds also show disruptions of normal sleep patterns, increased vulnerability to predators, and increasing chemical levels in blood, such as oxalate, that indicate stress.  It is the latter that should concern us all.  Changes in the levels of endocrine hormones in the blood are associated with cancers in humans. The birds are telling us something.

Recent studies have shown strong correlations between breast and prostate cancer, night-time work and blood hormone levels in humans.  One study of nurses suggests that sustained night-shift work may increase the risk of breast cancer by 50 to 100%, associated with the suppression of melatonin and disruption of Circadian rhythms. Across 110 countries worldwide, ALAN explained 79% of the variability in the occurrence prostate cancer.

As with so many studies of occupational effects on health, controlled experiments are difficult to organize—the effects are long-term, we can’t control the subjects, and other factors confound the results.   Nevertheless, the increasing reports of hormonal disruption in birds and humans subject to artificial light at night are increasing cause for concern.

Darkness may be our friend.



Davies, T.W. and T. Smyth. 2018.  Why artificial light at night should be a focus for global change research in the 21st century.  Global Change Biology 24: 872-882. 

Horton, B.M. and 5 others. 2017.  High-intensity urban light installation dramatically alters nocturnal bird migration.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi: 10.1073/pnas.1708574114

Quyang, J.Q and 7 others. 2017.  Restless roots: Light pollution affects behavior, sleep, and physiology in a free-living songbird.  Global Change Biology doi: 10.1111/gcb.13756

Rybnikovaa, N.N., A. Haimb, and B.A. Portnova. 2017.  Is prostate cancer incidence worldwide linked to artificial light at night exposures: Review of earlier findings and analysis of current trends.  Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health 72: 111-122.

Touitou, Y., A. Reinberg, and D. Touitou. 2017.  Association between light at night, melatonin secretion, sleep deprivation, and the internal clock. Health impacts and mechanisms of circadian disruption.  Life Sciences 173: 94-106.

Zielinska-Dabkowska. K.M. 2018. Make lighting healthier.  Nature 553: 272-276.

Copy of Copy of City's Outdoor Lighting Gets Refocused

Article originally posted on February 14th, 2018 on the Bandera Bulletin (, written by Bill Pack (


The Bandera City Council last week endorsed the Dark Skies movement that has swept the Hill Country by modifying its outdoor lighting regulations to get outdoor lights focused downward rather than allowing rays to stray into the night sky.

The new outdoor lighting amendment won quick passage from council on Feb. 6 as members agreed changes were needed to preserve the clarity of the stars in the night sky by limiting where light from outdoor fixtures is allowed to shine.

Instead of spraying outward and even upward into the night sky, light from modified fixtures will be focused downward where it’s needed, energy will be saved as will the appeal of the night sky, council members said.

“It’s a movement stretching across the Hill Country that we’re getting in step with,” said Mayor Suzanne Schauman after the vote. “I think it will be a good thing.”

The amended ordinance requires shields, hoods and coatings on light fixtures that keep the light from straying sideways and upward or from being seen at any surrounding property.  The only time outdoor lighting is allowed to drift upwards is when the fixture is shielded by a roof or overhang.

Exterior lights added to projects and those included in significant renovations of buildings must comply with the new regulations.

Noncomplying fixtures already installed in buildings, including homes, before the amendment was adopted can remain in use for five years from the date the amendment was approved but then need to be modified to meet the new standards, the amendment says.

Councilwoman Lynn Palmer said a variety of light shielding devices already are available at hardware stores for homeowners and business owners to use in complying with the new rules.  Changing the kind of bulbs used will be helpful in some instances, and homemade remedies are likely to arise, she said.

“I think it’s going to be easy to comply with,” Palmer said.

The mayor agreed, saying that some light restricting devices the city put on fixtures in Heritage Park did not cost much.  The Bandera Electric Cooperative is working with the city to see that street lights comply with the new regulations, Schauman said.

Councilwoman Rebeca Gibson, who has long been an advocate of the dark skies reforms, said the city’s new rules are part of a global initiative that has arisen in response to the problems caused by light pollution both to the environment and to the health of people and animals.

Outdoor lights that shine where they need to shine save people money and can create a safer environment because they produce less glare than inefficient lighting fixtures, she said.

Gibson has not heard one complaint about the new regulations but also understands the city will need to hold informational sessions to help the public understand how it can comply with the ordinance.

“It’s affordable, and it’s about being a good neighbor,” the councilwoman said. “Any outdoor light can be adapted to comply with the ordinance.”

The regulations prohibit additional installations of mercury vapor fixtures and say barn-light style fixtures will only be allowed with full opaque reflectors rather than translucent lenses.

The amendment does provide exceptions for outdoor lighting used for holiday displays, light needed by law enforcement and other emergency services, lighting required on motor vehicles and lighting required for aircraft operations.

Copy of Why Do Stars Disappear When I Look Directly at Them?

Today we're featuring a guest writer, Dr. Matthew Weed, a pediatric ophthalmologist based in Spokane, Washington. Dr. Weed answers the popular star-gazing question, "why do stars disappear when I look directly at them? Put shortly, “stars disappear when you look directly at them because of the anatomy of the photoreceptors in your retina.” Explaining further, Dr. Weed writes,

“We all have two types of light-sensing cells in our eyes, the rods and the cones. Cones see fine detail and color. Rods see better in dim light. When you look right at something that is small or far away, the image falls on a part of your retina where there are only cones. This means that if you're in a well-lit environment, you will see this object very well. If however you are in dim light, you'll see the object better out of your peripheral vision (looking just off to the side of your target) because then the image will fall on the part of your retina that has rods, which can see in dim light. This is true of everyone's eyes, but many people have never noticed it. There are a few VERY rare conditions that can exaggerate this phenomenon, but they are like 1 in 10,000 level rare. A dilated eye exam could detect them.”

Interested in learning more about the way your eyes function? Check out the blog portion of Dr. Weed’s website, here.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 7.50.42 PM.png

China's first dark sky reserve aims to curb light pollution

Article originally posted on January 10th, 2018 on CGTN, written by Alok Gupta


China is developing one of the world’s largest dark sky reserves to combat light pollution and create an ambient location for astronomical observation. 

According to a research paper published in Science Advances, the amount of artificially lit up outdoor area grew worldwide by an annual average of 2.2 percent from 2012 to 2016, increasing light pollution. 

The increase in artificial lighting has brightened the skies to the extent that nearly two-thirds of city populations are unable to see constellations and the Milky Way.

According to the study, areas where the Milky Way was completely obscured include the London to Leeds/Liverpool region of England and the areas surrounding Beijing, Hong Kong and Taiwan in China. 

Last year, China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) started a project to create a dark sky reserve in a bid to preserve the visibility of starry nights. The initiative is aimed at curbing light pollution while also raising awareness about it. 

The reserve spreads over 2,500 square kilometers in area at Ngari, Tibet Autonomous Region, which borders India and Nepal.

“We are raising awareness with 20,000 residents from the area about controlling the use of artificial lighting and trying to avoid the extremely bright lights in the town,” Xiao Tongren, chief of the Dark and Starry Sky Committee of the CBCGDF told CGTN. 

The organization has also collaborated with the local administration in Tibet to implement the dark sky reserve rules. Ren pointed out that their aim is to ensure there are no neon lights, light emitting diode (LED) screens, floodlights or horizontally focused lights within Ngari. 

There are only 12 dark sky reserves that have been accredited by the International Dark-Sky Association. It includes Aoraki Mackenzie (New Zealand), Brecon Beacons National Park (Wales), Central Idaho (US), Exmoor National Park (England), Kerry (Ireland), Mont-Mégantic (Québec), Moore's Reserve (England), NamibRand Nature Reserve (Namibia), Pic du Midi (France), Rhön (Germany), Snowdonia National Park (Wales) and Westhavelland (Germany).

China’s dark sky reserve would be the first one in Asia. However, the International Dark-Sky Association has named Yeongyang Firefly Eco Park as a Silver-tier International Dark Sky Park, the first such designation in Asia.

Zhou Jinfeng, secretary general of the CBCGDF Party committee, pointed out that light pollution has a significant impact on migratory birds and wildlife. “Bright lights impact the visibility of nocturnal birds and disrupts their habitat and also migration pattern,” he said. 

“Light pollution also has a major effect on human health like circadian rhythms too,” he added. Circadian rhythms are important in determining the sleeping and feeding patterns of all animals, including human beings.   

Rapid urbanization in most of the developed and developing countries has led to increasing light pollution. China, despite massive growth of cities, has managed to contain its annual increase in the area lit artificially below 2.1 percent and its brightness below 1.9 percent.

“It’s surprising that China has been able to control light pollution to a large extent,” Christopher Kyba, one of the lead authors of the study on light pollution, told CGTN.  

Top Image: The Dark Sky Park is located in the core areas of Ngari's Dark Sky Reserve. /Xiaohua Wang Photo


by Kelly Bastone

Originally posted on Mountain Magazine

Communities across the Colorado Plateau are determined to preserve one of America’s last patches of uncorrupted darkness.


It’s hard to fathom if you grew up in rural parts of the Intermountain West like Foott, but most Americans have never glimpsed our home galaxy, or anything but a handful of the night’s brightest stars. Ninety-nine percent of the U.S. population lives beneath skies that are so polluted with artificial lights that they blot out celestial objects. East of the Mississippi, true darkness no longer exists. Given the speedy pace of development, astronomers predict that ten years from now, there will be just three places in the contiguous U.S. where you’ll be able to view the night sky as our ancestors did for millennia: One spot spans the border between southeastern Oregon and western Idaho; another is in northeastern Nevada.

The third is the Colorado Plateau, a broad swath of largely

uninhabited desert spanning eastern Utah, northern Arizona and New Mexico, and western Colorado—which will only stay dark if Foott and her allies win an improbable battle against an army of lumens.

Foott heads up the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, founded by the National Park Service in 2013 in an attempt to turn down the wattage over the region’s many national parks and monuments. Some, such as Natural Bridges, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands, have earned Dark Sky Park designation from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA). But ambient light from adjacent cities is compromising those pristine views. Light from Phoenix bleeds into the starscape above the Grand Canyon, 200 miles away. And night photos Foott took at Dead Horse Point State Park capture an orange glow on the horizon: lights from Moab.

Foott and her organization recruit private landowners and communities to join the effort to preserve the region’s dark nights. Flagstaff is already on board: That northern Arizona city (where astronomers discovered Pluto in 1930) adopted its first light-control measures in 1958, and have continued to pass lighting ordinances that made it the first International Dark-Sky Community in 2001. This year, the 300 residents of Torrey, Utah (the gateway town to Capitol Reef National Park) switched over to energy-saving streetlights that direct light down to the roadway instead of up into the sky. Their goal for Torrey is to become Utah’s first community to earn the dark-sky designation.

In Moab, the process of adopting light-mitigating measures has been more complicated. “Signage is the sticking point,” says Foott. It’s relatively easy to get community members to agree to shielded lamps for homes and streets. But many business owners feel that bigger, brighter signs are valuable for attracting drive-by visitors.

“The key is not to have government telling people what they can and can’t do,” says Joette Langianese, who’s tasked with developing Moab’s approach to dark-sky preservation. Her strategy is to emphasize the economic benefits of alternative lighting. “We’re trying to create a real positive atmosphere around our dark skies. Astrotourism is a big part of what brings people here, so we’re hoping to get a few business owners to lead the way,” she says. This summer, Foott is overseeing a lighting inventory that will plug all of Moab’s fixtures into a computer program to calculate the savings (in lumens and energy bills) of switching each one to dimmer or shielded alternatives.

Cities like Sedona, an official Dark-Sky Community, that are proactive about preserving their dark skies enjoy higher property values than towns with honky-tonk lighting. Unpolluted skies can even help sell real estate: Summit Sky Ranch, a new, 240-home development near Silverthorne, Colorado, is building dark-sky preservation into its streetlights and overall design—which include an observatory with a 20-inch refractor telescope.

Such projects suggest that the general public is as interested in our night skies as park visitors. According to NPS surveys at parks across the Colorado Plateau, the number of people who rated nightscapes as being “important” or “very important” rose from 10 percent in the early 1990s to 65 percent in 2010. At parks like Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands, night sky events are the most popular of all the interpretive programs offered. People call Dead Horse Point State Park six to 12 months in advance of their intended visit to plan their trip around the star parties that rangers offer there.

“More than beautiful, the night sky is thought-provoking,” says Crystal White, the park’s assistant manager and a night sky ranger who offers astronomy talks there and at the Island in the Sky unit of Canyonlands National Park. Viewed from horizon to horizon, the Milky Way spans 70 million billion miles—the biggest thing humans might ever lay eyes on. That kind of scale makes one feel small, but not insignificant: We are part of the vastness. In this selfie-solipsism age, we need that big picture perspective more than ever.

“Appreciation for dark skies is entering the social consciousness,” says Foott. “Light pollution is one of the only types of pollution that’s completely and immediately reversible. I don’t think we’ll realize the value of seeing the Milky Way, until it’s gone.”

    Debate team holds mock congress at League of Women Voters Event

    By: by Rose Egelhoff

    Originally posted on The Times-Independent

    The League of Women Voters collaborated with the Grand County High School debate team to host an informational speech and mock congress on Nov. 13. The informational speech informed audience members about the use of light ordinances in protecting dark skies. In the mock congress, students debated a bill permitting nightly rentals in all zones of the city of Moab.

    Students Grace Osusky, Aidan Guzman-Newton, Emma Millis, Florencia Hernandez, Phillip Geiser, Annie Koppel, Kai Wainer and Miranda Corbin participated. Grace Osusky introduced the dark skies informational speech with an anecdote about a family visit to Chicago where the city lights reflected against the sky, outshining the stars. Other students continued, explaining what light ordinances are and how they affect humans and the environment.

    Millis noted that 83 percent of people live in areas with light pollution.

    “It’s no wonder Dark Skies, a nonprofit that advocates for the decreasing of light pollution, has become so popular,” Millis said.

    Motion sensors, shielding and warmer colored lights can help, Hernandez said.

    “None of this requires the use of staff’s time or overwhelming resources to do … it’s clear to see the benefits of such ordinances,” Hernandez said.

    Guzman-Newton spoke to the environmental importance of dark sky ordinances. Artificial light disturbs the natural patterns of nocturnal animals. In addition, 30 percent of outdoor lighting is wasted, he said — equivalent to $3.3 billion each year.

    Light pollution negatively affects human sleep as well by interfering with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, Corbin said.

    “Melatonin is something that your body needs to survive and thrive,” Wainer said. “Light pollution is creating a world where we cannot produce as much of this hormone as we need. In our cities, most streetlights have LED bulbs, which give off short wavelength of light. This cannot continue. These bulbs need to be switched to a longer wavelength of light so the damage of light pollution is lessened.”

    Geiser explained the wider significance of supporting municipal light ordinances.

    “By endorsing a municipal program that aims for a cleaner environment, we start a conversation about the killer of nine million people and to me, that means something,” Geiser said. “So not only by supporting dark skies are we helping the citizens of Moab, but also the world because we are what starts the conversation on the importance of a clean environment.”

    After the informative speech, local stakeholders told the audience about local dark skies efforts. Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine spoke about city and county efforts to apply for the International Dark Sky Designation through the International Dark Sky Association. 

    “We are also both looking at our ordinances that regulate lighting in our respective jurisdictions,” Levine said.

    Levine added that the county does not allow internally illuminated signs, and requires downward directed fully shielded lighting. There is room for improvement in incentives for warm-colored lights, which have less of an environmental impact than cooler colored lighting. 

    Guest experts Lars Haarr, a river guide with O.A.R.S. Canyonlands Rafting, and Sharon Russel, who works in visitor information for the Bureau of Land Management, also spoke.

    “My goal is to get people out there, get people looking up at the night sky, teaching them a little bit about the mythology and the cosmology here and so I would like a darker sky,” Haarr said. “I think that we as citizens of this beautiful place should do everything we can to promote a healthy viewscape not just during the daytime but during the nighttime as well.”

    Russel spoke about the beginnings of the dark sky cooperative in Moab.

    Next the students presented a mock congress, debating a bill to allow nightly rentals in all zones within city limits and prohibit restrictions on advertising such rentals.

    Osusky, Martinez and Guzman-Newton argued for the bill.

    “Most people think that second or third homeowners are the ones who benefit from nightly rentals. However this isn’t the case. Nightly rentals can also be people who are under the poverty line renting out a room in their house to provide an extra financial basis for themselves,” Osusky said.

    Martinez said that the rights of many to do as they wish with their property should not be violated because of the actions of a few irresponsible renters.

    “In the case of short term rentals, the city should deal with actual nuisances from any residents rather than prohibit that all homeowners make a quick buck,” Martinez said. 

    Guzman-Newton said that supporting tourism jobs means, “supporting nightly rentals and that regulation was an example of government overreach.”

    Millis, Koppel and Geiser opposed the bill. Millis argued that nightly rentals take away the feeling of community. 

    “Moab, Utah may be home to Arches and Canyonlands but it is first and foremost the home of its residents and citizens that have made their homes here ... the availability of housing for long term residents becomes scarce as people want to make more of a profit through these nightly rentals,” Millis said.

    Koppel also argued that nightly rentals would increase the price of housing for locals.

    “Sixty percent of the rentals are owned by people who do not live in Grand County. With outsiders making all the profit on these rentals, it is impossible for locals to thrive economically,” Koppel said.

    Geiser agreed, and added that city commercial and residential zoning exists for a reason, saying, “Zones should be prohibited to certain areas.”

    The students voted against the bill in a seven to two vote.

    The debate team will host the Red Rock Classic tournament on Friday, Dec. 15 and Saturday, Dec. 16. The team is looking for judges. No experience is needed. Interested parties can email or call the high school at 435-259-8931.

    Exploring Light Pollution In Salt lake City

    This article was originally posted on KUER 90.1. Visit their website to listen to the entire piece.

    By: Nicole Nixon

     The view of the Wasatch Front’s skyglow from Ben Lomond Peak. Photo Courtesy of the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative.

    The view of the Wasatch Front’s skyglow from Ben Lomond Peak. Photo Courtesy of the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative.

    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

    Southern Utah town has starring role in dark-sky movement

    Link to full Salt Lake Triune article here.

    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 (“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.”

    Astronomy events

    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,

    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;

    Empowering Collaboration Through Dark Sky Protection

    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,


     Janey Heyman is an intern for the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative and the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies. She is also an undergraduate student studying ecology, sustainability, and parks, recreation, and tourism. She loves to spend time under the stars, and is enjoying the process of adding constellations to her identification repertoire. Janey is also fond of the growing astro-tourism opportunities provided by outdoor recreation.

    Janey Heyman is an intern for the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative and the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies. She is also an undergraduate student studying ecology, sustainability, and parks, recreation, and tourism. She loves to spend time under the stars, and is enjoying the process of adding constellations to her identification repertoire. Janey is also fond of the growing astro-tourism opportunities provided by outdoor recreation.

    Stargazing Hot Spots in Utah- Featured on Fox 13 News

    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.

     Photo by Zach Schierl, NPS

    Photo by Zach Schierl, NPS

    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.

    Upcoming Events

    • 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

    Link to original article here.

    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.

    See the stars at Cedar Breaks, Utah’s newest dark-sky park

     The Milky Way rises above Cedar Breaks. Photo by Zach Schierl.

    The Milky Way rises above Cedar Breaks. Photo by Zach Schierl.

    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.

    Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake Tribune. Maffly can be reached at or 801-257-8713.

    Twitter: @brianmaffly