The Milky Way soars high across the sky as twilight fades this evening. It stretches from the brilliant yellow-orange star Capella in the northeast, to the graceful outline of Cygnus, the swan, high overhead, to teapot-shaped Sagittarius in the southwest.
If you’re like most Americans, though, you won’t be able to see it — it’s hidden behind a curtain of light: the glare of streetlamps and other artificial light sources.
One place you can see the Milky Way, though, is Big Bend National Park in West Texas. It has the darkest measured night skies in the Lower 48 states. So earlier this year, Big Bend was designated as an International Dark Sky Park — an honor bestowed by the International Dark-Sky Association.
In part, the park’s skies are so dark because Big Bend is a long away from anywhere. But it’s also because the park, as well as towns and developments around it, have made an effort to control outdoor lighting. The park itself has replaced most of its outdoor light fixtures, cutting the glare considerably — and cutting its lighting costs by 98 percent.
Big Bend isn’t alone, though. Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah earned the first dark sky designation, and state parks in Pennsylvania and New Mexico also earned top honors. They’re places where you can always see the Milky Way — and the other glories of the night sky.
Africa recently got its first dark-sky park, in a country where astronomy is taking off. More about that tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.