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Sunday, February 5, 2023

A New International Dark Sky Destination Worth Adding to Your List

If you’re a stargazer, add this lesser-known US national park to your bucket list

Astronomers who love observing the stars will be pleased with this news. There’s a new international dark sky destination to add to your bucket list of places to see the night sky.

The international dark sky certification recognizes the exceptional quality of the night skies of a park and the opportunities it provides for astronomy-based experiences for visitors. Founded in 2001, the International Dark Sky Places program encourages “communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through effective lighting policies, environmentally-responsible outdoor lighting, and public education.”

On the southern Outer Banks of North Carolina, Cape Lookout National Seashore is one of the newest destinations, which received its Dark Sky Park certification last month.

As a popular destination for birdwatchers and herds of wild horses, the park consists of 56 miles of undeveloped beach along four barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. Now that light pollution has been reduced, it is regarded as a wonderful place to gaze at a galaxy full of stars. There is a dark sky viewing area at the visitor centre, and the Crystal Coast Stargazers often hold astronomy events here.

Jeff West, Superintendent of Cape Lookout National Seashore, is quoted as saying, “This certification is an honour for our community and a recognition of the unique values that make this park a national treasure.” Taking on this project reminded me of the wonder and awe I experienced as a child peering into the night sky. The possibilities I imagined then dwarf life’s daily demands when put into perspective. Maybe we could all benefit from some star gazing right now.”

During a rigorous, two-year application process, artificial light within the park and its surrounding area was evaluated, as well as light fixtures and their retrofitting or replacement in some cases. A number of partners contributed to the process, including Crystal Coast Stargazers, Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, and the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce. Certification also required the development of a plan for maintaining outdoor lighting in the future, to protect the park’s dark skies for the benefit of the next generation of night sky enthusiasts.

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