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Historic Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute Designated as International Dark Sky Park

Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute 26 meter west and 4.6 meter radio telescope "Smiley". Photo by Tim Reaves.

Nestled in the mountains of the Pisgah National Forest at a former historic NASA facility, the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) in Transylvania County has been awarded the prestigious designation of International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. This is in recognition of the exceptional quality of the night sky over PARI and their commitment to educational outreach. This certification means that PARI is protecting the beautiful dark night skies, allowing the Milky Way and other celestial objects to be clearly seen.

”We are delighted that Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute is now a certified International Dark Sky Park,” said Ruskin Hartley, International Dark-Sky Association Executive Director. He added, “This is an exciting accomplishment that has tremendous potential to educate people about the value of dark skies.”

The International Dark-Sky Association 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. More information about the program may be found here.

Natural nighttime darkness is a rapidly vanishing resource east of the Mississippi River, and few locations remain where stargazers can find dark night skies within easy reach. The preservation of dark areas in parks and protected lands is important to ensure the wellbeing of wildlife and accessibility of dark skies for future generations. PARI is one of these critical nighttime habitats.

PARI is founded on the proud science legacy of the US space and satellite research programs. Located in the heart of a breathtaking natural forest and dwelling under the dome of the dark sky, PARI is building on its historic past to create a destination for the study, celebration, and enjoyment of science. In order to be designated as an International Dark Sky Park, PARI had to meet stringent programming, monitoring, and infrastructure requirements set forth by the International Dark-Sky Association. Existing park lights were modified to be dark sky-friendly fixtures including low temperature (3000 degrees Kelvin or less) bulbs, full cut-off shielding, motion detectors, and timers. These changes enhance the natural darkness within the park.

Activities and learning experiences abound at PARI for educators and their students at all levels—on campus, at school, locations elsewhere, and online. Approximately 2700 students were served by PARI educational outreach experiences and over 1000 people visited the park for evening viewings and the enjoyment of celestial events. More information about PARI can be found here.