Most famous as the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America, Death Valley National Park also harbors some of the darkest night skies in the United States. That dark sky is key to its recent certification as only the third International Dark Sky Park in the U.S. National Park System.
“Death Valley is a place to gaze in awe at the expanse of the Milky Way, follow a lunar eclipse, track a meteor shower, or simply reflect on your place in the universe,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We greatly appreciate the International Dark-Sky Association certification. It illustrates the park’s commitment to protect natural darkness and supports the wider mission to protect nightscapes in the entire National Park System.”
“As the world becomes more urbanized,” Jarvis added, “the value of a starry sky only increases and our ability to offer visitors these incredible experiences is an integral part of the National Park Service mission to preserve our nation’s most cherished places for this and future generations.”
Death Valley’s natural darkness, along with National Park Service actions to reduce excessive outdoor lighting, led the International Dark-Sky Association to designate the park as the third and largest International Dark Sky Park.
“The Dark Sky Park designation represents not only the efforts of the park and its partners, but the dedication of avid amateur astronomers who have sought the park’s world-class starry skies for decades,” said Dan Duriscoe, of the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division.
To qualify for the dark sky designation, the park improved external lighting at facilities in the Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells areas, reducing energy consumption, sky glow, and glare. The designation requires the park to sustain its efforts to protect night sky resources and visitor education. Implementation of the park’s lighting guidelines will improve the natural character of the night and leave the stars untarnished in other areas of the park.
Park rangers offer monthly night sky programs and hold stargazing events with astronomy organizations. Using high-powered telescopes, visitors can explore the mysteries of Death Valley’s dark, night skies.
“At Death Valley the sky literally begins at your feet,” said Tyler Nordgren, Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Redlands (Calif.) and International Dark-Sky Association board member. “When my students and I look up at night from our southern California campus, we can usually count 12 stars in the sky. However, less than a five hour drive from Los Angeles there’s a place where anyone can look up and see the universe the way everyone could 100 years ago.”
The park’s actions to reduce unnecessary lighting also tie in with “Starry, Starry Night,” one of the goals in A Call to Action—the National Park Service’s stewardship and engagement priorities for its second century.
Image courtesy National Park Service