Dark Utah sky offering a clearer view to stargazers

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Antelope Island, pictured above, is one of Utah’s 22 Dark Sky Designated Locations. Despite being located near an urban center, the low light levels on the island allow for stargazing. (Dallin Wilks)

Residents of Utah can observe the stars in any of the state’s 22 designated dark sky locations, made possible by measures taken to reduce light pollution.

According to International Dark-Sky Association, Utah has the largest concentration of “dark sky places” in the world. However, efforts to preserve places with dark skies are underway. Light pollution, which is defined by the association as “the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light, ”Is the biggest obstacle to dark skies receiving an official dark sky designation.

Shelby Stock, director of Dark Sky programming for Utah State Parks, said qualifying for a Dark Sky designation is a long and in-depth process. Stock is working closely with Jordanelle State Park and said Jordanelle has been working on her designation since 2016.

Despite obtaining the designation in January of this year, maintaining low levels of light pollution is an ongoing process for Jordanelle. “They are still working on it. The International Dark-Sky Association doesn’t expect Jordanelle to be perfect from the start, so it’s giving them about 10 years to modernize all of their lighting, ”Stock said.

Stock explained the adjustments underway to reduce light pollution, including the installation of motion-activated and orange lighting, as well as the integration of educational outreach programs for park visitors. As these efforts lead to more exciting stargazing, the need to preserve the starry skies goes beyond stunning views.

“Beyond aesthetics, light pollution, especially in urban centers, impacts sleep cycles as well as the quality of sleep. It also affects animals, ”said Benjamin Boizelle, professor of physics and astronomy. “The urban crawl led to some of the best spots in the dark sky west of Lake Utah to be affected by some of the city lights.”

BYU Astronomical Society President Jason Trump said he believed light pollution had cultural impacts in addition to biological and astronomical consequences.

“What is happening is humans are losing their connection with the night sky,” Trump said. “Astronomy has always played a role in human life. There is something human about seeing the night sky, the Milky Way and the stars. “

An unobstructed view of the Milky Way, found at Antelope Island, is made possible by reduced light pollution. (Dallin Wilks)

There are many designated dark places in Utah for stargazers:

Antelope Island

From its position on the Great Salt Lake, the island is home to an interesting fauna, aptly named for the antelope, bison, mule deer and bighorn sheep that roam its surface. With the mountains in the distance, stargazers have access to a wide open dark sky experience not far from the hustle and bustle of Salt Lake City. Antelope Island is accessible by a causeway via Antelope Drive on I-15 in Layton.

Rockport State Park

Stargazing enthusiasts who visit Park City need only look a little north to find the dark skies of Rockport State Park. The smaller park is a hidden gem and year round attraction, with boating and fishing activities in the summer, and snowmobiling and ice fishing in the winter. Rockport Park is east of Salt Lake City, accessible by Exit 155 from I-80 and traveling five miles southeast on SR 32.

Sion national park

As the most recent addition to Utah’s comprehensive repertoire of dark sky designations, the majesty of Zion in daylight can now be matched at night. In June, Zion became the last of the so-called “Mighty Five” national parks in Utah to receive this official designation from the International Dark-Sky Association. Zion National Park is located on State Route 9 in Springdale, accessible by I-15 South Exit 27.

Visiting Utah website has more information and resources on Utah’s dark sky locations.

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