Dark Desert Skies

For those of us who have spent time in Oregon’s high desert, there is no need to explain how truly dark skies showcase the wonders of the stars viewable by the naked eye.

(As seen on ONDA’S Blog. Photos by Grant Tandy)
Night skies relatively free from light pollution — that is, human-created artificial lighting and atmospheric disturbances such as smog — will present any viewer with a glimpse into a world truly stellar in scope. But outside of appreciating starry nights for the obvious and natural beauty, why are dark skies so important? And what can we do to preserve them?

Dark skies are important to organisms that call the wild their home. Animals rely on the naturally dark sky for their very survival.  A large portion of wildlife on our planet have evolved to be nocturnally active species. For species of prey like a deer mouse, it means having the cover of dark to survive predation by predators less adapt for darker conditions, foraging for food in relative safety.  Not all predators can dive at prey like a peregrine falcon, exceeding speeds of 200 mph. Great-horned owls have to rely on more subtle methods of pursuit, using the cover of night to hide in plain sight while silently stalking their quarry. Many animals rely on the position of the stars and moon to navigate pathways of migration. Artificial lighting from nearby cities and other human habitations distort their view, making it harder for them to follow ancient, irreplaceable biological processes.

That’s not to say that dark skies aren’t important to human beings and some of our biological needs, as well. An unnatural variation of darkness can manipulate our circadian rhythm, potentially disturbing our chance for a sound night’s rest. Culturally, we would be amiss without stories shared around a campfire about the starry positions and cosmological formations that tell our history.

So the question remains: how can we preserve our dark skies? The answer to preservation lies in changing the way we think and how we interact with the night in order to decrease light pollution. Light covers, forcing light downwards to the ground, rather than up into the sky can be easily placed on existing fixtures. Light strands can be set to timers, made to automatically turn off during the darkest points of the night when most of us are asleep and unable to enjoy them anyway.

If you live in Central Oregon, you’re lucky to be surrounded by organizations that are dedicated to the preservation of dark skies, and education on the wonders of our universe. In Sunriver, you can find the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory, with one the nation’s largest publicly accessible observatories, managed by local Central Oregon Community College astronomy professor Bob Grossfeld. Just east of Bend, you can find Pine Mountain Observatory, a world-class astronomical research facility with opportunities for the public to interact with astronomers, such as University of Oregon’s very own Doctor Scott Fisher. And in Bend, you’ll find Worthy Brewing’s Hopservatory, run by Grant Tandy– local astrophotographer, Central Oregon native, and the galaxy’s friendliest observatory manager. All of these passionate individuals are ready to teach you about the importance of the night skies and the vast knowledge contained in our universe.

International Dark Sky Week runs from March 31 through April 7. So turn out your lights and look up at the sky. Happy star hunting.

Written by Kody Osborne. Photos by Grant Tandy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s