Home > Dark Places, Light Pollution, Stargazing > International Dark Sky Places

International Dark Sky Places

The global family of International Dark Sky Places – areas with stunning night skies and exemplary lighting controls to preserve those skies – has grown again recently, with the addition of some huge parks and reserves. There are currently (as of June 2012) 18 places around the world that satisfy the International Dark-sky Association‘s (IDA) requirements.

The Church of the Good Shepherd, Aoraki Mackenzie IDSR Image by Fraser Gunn

I’ve been lucky enough to visit 12 out of these 18 incredible places, including the two most recent additions to the IDA family, NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia, and Aoraki Mackenzie in New Zealand, both of which have been awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status this year.

The IDA has three different designations: International Dark Sky Park (IDSP), International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR), and International Dark Sky Community (IDSC).

IDSPs are areas of public land that are near-empty wildernesses, and which have enacted strict controls of outside artificial lighting throughout the entire park. There are currently ten IDSPs.

IDSRs are large areas centred on a dark sky core, a significant area – an observatory, say – in need of protection against light pollution, and a 15km-minimum buffer zone around that core, encompassing surrounding communities. The communities in the buffer zone have lighting controls that help minimise light pollution in the core area. There are currently four IDSRs.

IDSCs are communities – cities, towns, villages, islands – that have enacted exemplary lighting controls to limit the spread of light pollution into their night skies. There are currently four IDSCs.

The following table has some information about the various International Dark Sky Places:

Name Location Park Area Designation Year Designated
Aoraki Mackenzie New Zealand  4300 km2 Reserve  2012
Big Bend National Park Texas, USA  3242 km2 Park  2012
Borrego Springs California, USA  110 km2 Community  2009
Cherry Springs State Park Pennsylvania, USA  4.3 km2 Park  2008
Clayton Lake State Park New Mexico, USA  1.9 km2 Park  2010
Exmoor National Park England, UK  692 km2 Reserve  2011
Flagstaff Arizona, USA  255 km2 Community  2000
Galloway Forest Park Scotland, UK  780 km2 Park  2009
Geauga Observatory Park Ohio, USA  4.5 km2 Park  2011
Goldendale Observatory State Park Washington, USA  0.2 km2 Park  2010, provisional
The Headlands of Emmet County Michigan, USA  2.2 km2 Park  2011
Homer Glen Illinois, USA  58 km2 Community  2011
Hortobagy National Park Hungary  800 km2 Park  2011
Mont Megantic Quebec, Canada  5000 km2 Reserve  2008
NamibRand Nature Reserve Namibia  1722 km2 Reserve  2012
Natural Bridges National Monument Utah, USA  31 km2 Park  2006
Sark Channel Islands, UK  5.4 km2 Community  2011
Zselic Landscape Protection Area Hungary  90.4 km2 Park  2009

 

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  1. Donald E Pensack
    July 1, 2012 at 22:04

    Borrego Springs, CA does not have dark skies. You can get to dark skies about 100 miles from there, but the entry of that location on a map of dark sky sites says the list is somewhat hollow in its veracity.
    Don Pensack
    Lifetime IDA member

    • July 2, 2012 at 08:55

      Hi Don,

      Thanks for your comment. The two important things to say are: 1. The International Dark-Sky Association awards IDSPlaces for exceptional light pollution control, which Borrego Springs has, and 2. The skies above Borrego Springs might not be Arizona-dark, but relative to the skies seen by most residents of southern California they’re exceptional, which is what the IDA looks for.

  2. Donald E Pensack
    July 2, 2012 at 15:49

    Steve,

    I can appreciate wanting to reward a place that controls its lighting with a placement on this list. That is a big thing, and we can only hope such attention to lighting control spreads to other communities.

    Borrego Springs has the wonderful star party, Nightfall, every October, and it is a wonderful place to relax and visit during the star party in an inexpensive, resort, environment.
    It is darker there than Arrowhead, Big Bear, and many sites visited by astronomy clubs.

    For those in SoCal reading this note, however, I would note that nearby Julian, Little Blair Valley, Mt. Laguna, Desert Center, Salton Sea, and the eastern side of Joshua Tree National Park, all within easy driving distance of Borrego Springs, have skies a half magnitude darker and more. That difference is fairly noticeable to the amateur astronomer.
    Also darker are the LAAS site in Lockwood Valley, the RAS site near Landers, Mt. Pinos, Afton Campground, and Amboy Crater.

    So it depends on whether the goal is enjoyment of a nice resort in the desert with reasonably dark skies or the experience of truly dark skies. There is certainly room for both.

    • July 2, 2012 at 15:50

      I agree. Thanks Don, especially for the list of other observing sites in SoCal.

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