Light Pollution and Dark Skies

The world is full of the unintentional consequences of human activities. Light pollution is one of them. Where can you go to escape it?

We’re contending serious problems because of climate change, the release of chemical compounds into our environment that mimic hormones, the extinction of many, many species of animals and plants, and the list goes on. The overwhelming majority of these problems are unintentional. No one sat around thinking what a great idea it would be to lose a large portion of the earth’s biodiversity by accident. Light pollution is not on the same scale of problems as the present mass extinction crisis, but some species are badly affected by it (especially birds and insects). It has also been recognized as an issue of loss of cultural and scientific heritage.

On 5 December 2012, NASA released a series of images and videos of the earth’s surface as it looks at night, derived from photos taken by a NASA-NOAA satellite. The images have been dubbed “The Black Marble” and received a fair bit of press coverage (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NPP/news/earth-at-night.html). The images are beautiful, certainly, and you get a real sense of the mass – the spread – of the human population from them. We are truly a global species (David Suzuki has dubbed us a “SuperSpecies” – influencing the lives and fates of most, if not all, other species on earth).

They are also in a sense a map of “Dark Sky” areas – places where you can still hope to get a view of the night sky without the overwhelming warm glow of stray photons from street lamps, cars, highrises – well, you get the picture. Here’s Southern Ontario, a cropped view of one of NASA’s images, a stunning high-resolution composite covering much of North America (the source file is at: http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/712129main_8247975848_88635d38a1_o.jpg).

NASA Black Marble Cropped SO

Southern Ontario at night from space, cropped from a much larger image published by NASA in December 2012, part of the “Black Marble” project. Photo credit: NASA

So, where can you go in Southern Ontario to see dark skies? A great start are areas already designated as dark sky parks or preserves. Here are some main ones, plotted on an inverted version of the NASA photo:

 

Ontario Dark Sky Areas 2012

Prominent Dark Sky locations in Southern Ontario, plotted on an inverted image of the area from space at night. Dark areas represent highest concentrations of light pollution. Original photo credit: NASA

  1. Gordon’s Park, Manitoulin Island (the island follows practices to encourage a “dark sky” environment) –  Designated a Dark-Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
  2. Bruce Peninsula Fathom Five National Marine Park, near Tobermory –  Designated a Dark-Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
  3. Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre – Wiarton, ON
  4. Point Pelee National Park –  Designated a Dark-Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
  5. Torrance Barrens – NE of Orillia. Designated a Dark-Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in November 2012
  6. Lennox-Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area – about 60 km NNW of Napanee, ON

Other areas recommended by some sources include:

  • Binbook Conservation Area – about 16 KM south of Hamilton, a favourite site of the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers
  • Fingal Wildlife Management Area, 30 km from London, Ontario.
  • Bon Echo Provincial Park, 100 km north of Prince Edward County
  • Charleston Lake Provincial Park, west of Brockville

UNESCO has a dark skies designation program underway, noting that dark skies are of scientific and also of cultural value. Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is also promoting the idea of Urban Star Parks – but there seems to only be one designation so far, in New Brunswick.

Links:

Text © 2012, David Allan Galbraith
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