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The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas — or at least in West Texas. A new “dark skies reserve” encompasses about 15,000 square miles of western Texas and northern Mexico. It acknowledges that the night sky is already dark, and can help keep it dark in the years ahead.
Proper nighttime lighting provides a lot of advantages. It’s good for the ecosystem, because too much light can interfere with the migrations of birds and other animals. It’s good for public safety because light is directed where it’s needed — on the ground. It’s good for astronomy because extra light can spoil the view of stars and galaxies. And it’s good for astro-tourism because dark skies attract stargazers from the world over.
McDonald Observatory and other groups in West Texas and northern Mexico have helped keep the night sky dark. They’ve worked with governments to enact rules that require good nighttime lighting, and with the oil industry and others to change the way they light their operations.
That led to the creation of the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve. It was certified by the International Dark-Sky Association, which works to preserve dark night skies around the world. It’s the largest dark sky reserve in the world. It recognizes the work done to keep the night sky dark. And it provides a model for other regions of the world — keeping the night skies dark well beyond the heart of West Texas.