20 February 2013. TUCSON, AZ & DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, CA –Death Valley National Park, the lowest point in North America, is reaching to new heights as today the International Dark-Sky Association announces its designation as the world’s newest and largest “Gold Tier” International Dark Sky Park.
Image Credit: Dan & Cindy Duriscoe
The park is distant enough from the large cities of the southwest so that much of the night sky above the desert floor is near pristine and, in many places, offers views close to what could be seen before the rise of cities. The skies there are affected by only the smallest amounts of light pollution classifying it at the highest level of IDA designation and star-filled skies, the “Gold Tier”. Astronomical objects seen there are available only to some of the darkest locations across the globe.
“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 of the entire National Park System.”
The park prides itself on the sense of solitude and quiet found there, yet it still attracts nearly a million visitors per year. While Death Valley is comprised of rugged wilderness areas and is famous for its extreme climate, the night skies above the park are as fragile as the land below. The 3.4 million acre park is largely free of its own sources of light pollution but the lights of distant Las Vegas and other cities do have an impact on the park’s skies and desert nightlife.
IDA Executive Director Bob Parks says, “Death Valley’s night skies are a thing of beauty that everyone should have a chance to see. We hope that the action the park has taken to preserve the night sky within its borders will inspire surrounding communities to follow their example.”
Death Valley staff, volunteers, and members of the local astronomy clubs agree. Through the park’s public outreach programs they all hope to raise awareness in nearby cities of the need to use quality dark sky friendly fixtures when upgrading lighting.
Death Valley’s goals are also engaging the owners of private properties within the park, such as Xanterra Parks and Resorts to improve lighting. Rich Jones, Regional General Manager of Xanterra, stated in his letter of support for Death Valley’s application, “…we sincerely believe in the importance of protecting and enhancing opportunities for visitors and residents to see unparalleled sights in the night sky…I see no reason why this initiative would yield anything but positive results.” Xanterra plans to continue its lighting upgrades with goals of improving the night sky over Death Valley.
Death Valley IDSP hosts regular astronomy and dark sky awareness events. Coming up is the 2nd annual Mars Fest on March 1-3, 2013. Learn more by visiting http://www.nps.gov/deva/naturescience/lightscape.htm and IDA’s page on International Dark Sky Places www.darksky.org/parks
Download a pdf version of this press release.
Image Credit: Tyler Nordgren
About the IDSPlaces Program:
IDA established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach. Since the program began four communities, four reserves, and ten parks have also received Dark Sky status.