The night sky…throughout history humans have looked up after the sun set in the evening and marveled at the astral bodies spread above them in a sea of black. This sight has inspired people from every age of history and from every culture around the world.
But it’s not the same as it used to be.
For most people, the cycles of night and day are so constant in our lives that we often take them for granted. The rising of the sun in the morning and its setting every evening molds our lives, and has for all of human history. The heavenly bodies we see above us, the sun, moon, planets, comets, and stars, influence all aspects of human civilization, from religion and philosophy to art and poetry. While daytime has remained constant from the beginning to the modern day, the same cannot be said for the night.
Until the end of the 19th century, the setting sun meant a world enveloped in darkness. The night was a time for retreat to homes and hearths, a respite in human activity until dawn. Try to imagine looking up into the night sky from the side of dying campfire ten thousand years ago, or from the step of a frontier cabin only two hundred years ago and seeing the moon and stars as the only source of light around you. Today this universal heritage is quickly being lost to the artificial light emitted by humans across the globe.
It may seem strange to think of darkness as a natural resource, but its importance to life on Earth cannot be overstated. Beyond humans, the billions of plants and animals across the planet have evolved over the eons to their own niche in the day-night cycle. Sunlight, or the lack of it, controls plant and animal behavior, from when to eat or sleep, when to migrate, where to travel to look for food, and even when to reproduce. The artificial light cast by cities disrupts these natural patterns for animals and can lead to hardship and death for many.
Efforts to reduce light pollution are picking up across the country and include everything from buildings and factories shutting off all non-essential lighting during animal migration seasons, to everyday citizens simply turning off outdoor lights when they go to bed.
Despite these efforts however, most Americans in the 21st century are still affected by at least some light pollution and many city-dwellers have never seen a truly dark night sky. Even for those living away from cities, a night sky might be interrupted by sky glow, a phenomenon that occurs when clouds scatter and reflect light back to earth.
Luckily for Utahns however, dark skies might be closer than you think. Utah is home to nine different “Dark Sky Parks”, certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. Among these places are Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks; Natural Bridges, Hovenweep, and Cedar Breaks National Monuments; Dead Horse Point, Goblin Valley, and Antelope Island State Parks; as well as the North Fork area in Weber County. These dark sky parks offer a distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment protected for future generations. So whether you are an astronomy enthusiast, an animal lover, or just want to see the night sky as our ancestors saw it for thousands of years, dark sky parks are the place for you.
As Vincent van Gogh, the mastermind behind the famous painting Starry Night once remarked, “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
For Wild About Utah, I’m Kajler Rask.
Photos: Courtesy National Park Service, Frank W. Jacobs, Photographer
Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, Courtesy: Google Art Project
Text: Kajler Rask
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Experience the Magic of the Stars at Utah’s State Parks, Utah State Parks Blog, State of Utah, April 13, 2023, https://stateparks.utah.gov/2023/04/13/experience-the-magic-of-the-stars-at-utahs-state-parks/