If you live in a large city (or even a medium-sized one) you have probably noticed that you can’t see many stars in the night sky. The light pollution from streetlamps, buildings, and car headlights create an ambient glow that blocks out most of the stars visible to us on Earth. Get just outside of town, however, and watch the sky explode with light. Thankfully, there is an organization called The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) that wants to preserve our night sky and the awe-inspiring lights it contains. These dark sky places are great to visit and camp, a great way to learn more about the stars, and a great way to blow your mind without leaving the comfort of the Solar System.
What Makes a Dark Sky Place?
The IDA’s main mission is preserving the night sky and advocating against light pollution caused by artificial lighting which affects humans, wildlife, and our climate. On their website, the IDA lists five distinctions within their International Dark Sky Places program. Each distinction has its own set of guidelines for designation based on “land management, size, and sky quality,” and are meant to preserve and protect dark sites from harmful light pollution through responsible lighting policies and education. Every space goes through a rigorous 1–3 year certification process before becoming official.
The distinctions are (follow each link for more information):
- International Dark Sky Parks – publicly- or privately-owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors
- International Dark Sky Communities – legally organized cities and towns that adopt quality outdoor lighting ordinances and undertake efforts to educate residents about the importance of dark skies
- International Dark Sky Reserves – areas that consist of a dark “core” zone surrounded by a populated periphery where policy controls are enacted to protect the darkness of the core
- International Dark Sky Sanctuaries – the more remote, and often darkest, places in the world whose conservation state is the most fragile
- Urban Night Sky Places – sites near or surrounded by large urban environs whose planning and design actively promote an authentic nighttime experience in the midst of significant artificial light
There are dozens of different dark sky spaces across the US. Check the map below to start planning your trip (or for more details head here). Pack up your tent, leave your lanterns at home, make sure you have plenty of General Snus with you, and enjoy exploring the universe!