Categories: Astronomy

New Zealand just got its first International Dark Sky Park

As light pollution around the world increases, we are losing our access to the night sky. Thankfully, dark sky preserves and parks do exactly what their names suggest – preserve the night sky as our ancestors knew it. And recently, the Wai-iti Recreational Reserve and Tunnicliff Forest has been accredited, offering stargazers in New Zealand unprecedented views of the heavens above.

If you live in the heart of a major city, chances are you can only see the brightest astronomical objects: the moon, a few planets, and a select number of major stars. To you, space itself must seem relatively empty, with only stars like Betelgeuse or Sirius to light your way.

Even in the suburbs and more rural areas, the light pollution from nearby industry and metro areas creates a warm but irritating glow along the horizon, snuffing out stars across a good chunk of the sky.

Reports of a new visible comet? Interesting conjunction of the planets? Too bad for you.

But this is not the sky that your ancestors knew. Their sky was alight with the fire of thousands of distant suns, weaving a tapestry full of myths, legends, and stories to tell around the campfire.

To see a sky like that, you have to hike out in the middle of nowhere: the oceans, the deep deserts, and the high mountains. Beautiful, but relatively inaccessible, places.

This is where the International Dark Sky Association comes in, where local groups can register specific sites for dark sky preservation. Through a years-long process involving monitoring light pollution levels and working with local governments and businesses to mitigate future light pollution, accreditation ensures that stargazers will have a chance to see near-pristine skies for generations to come.

The latest park to join those illustrious ranks is the Wai-iti Recreational Reserve and Tunnicliff Forest, located on the South Island of New Zealand, the first accredited dark sky park in the country.

The park joins other dark-sky sites in New Zealand, like the Aoraki-Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the Stewart Island/Rakiura International Dark Sky Sanctuary, and the Aotea/Great Barrier International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Unlike reserves and sanctuaries, parks are more easily accessible and offer stargazing programs for the public.

So why haven’t you moved yet?

Paul M. Sutter

Astrophysicist, Author, Host | pmsutter.com

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