Previously on Photography Zen-
Yesterday, as you may recall, our hero (that would be me), began his quest to photograph the night sky. Gathering the proper equipment, his journey of a 1000 steps ended after about 8. Thwarted not only by the rain, but the realization that living in the city, a dark sky would be difficult if not impossible to find. The Quest for the Milky Way begins.
The night is even more richly coloured than the day… . If only one pays attention to it, one sees that certain stars are citron yellow, while others have a pink glow or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expiating on this theme, it should be clear that putting little white dots on a blue-black surface is not enough.
— Vincent van Gogh, letter to sister, September 1888.
Drying myself off, I felt a little dismayed. My quest to photograph the night sky was proving to be more challenging than I originally anticipated. Having the proper equipment was only part of the equation, finding a location was a little more problematic. It had been a while since I’ve seen the Milky Way. Living in the city, only the brightest of stars make their appearance. I need total darkness. I need to be able to look up at the heavens and be overwhelmed. Armed with a keyboard, mouse and favorite glass of wine, I began my search.
It wasn’t long before I discovered the International Dark-Sky Association, or the IDA at darksky.org.
From their website:
IDA works to protect the night skies for present and future generations.
Advocate for the protection of the night sky
Educate the public and policymakers about night sky conservation
Promote environmentally responsible outdoor lighting
Empower the public with the tools and resources to help bring back the night
Not only did I find exactly what I was looking for, I believe I found a new cause that I can stand behind and support. I don’t want the importance of this organization to get lost within the context of this article so I will dedicate it to it’s own daily page which I will post tomorrow. Today I’d like to focus attention specifically to the International Dark Sky Places program started by the IDA in 2001. Their goal is “to encourage communities around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education.”
The Dark Sky Places program offers five types of designations:
International Dark Sky Communities
Communities are legally organized cities and towns that adopt quality outdoor lighting ordinances and undertake efforts to educate residents about the importance of dark skies.
International Dark Sky Parks
Parks are publicly or privately owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors.
International Dark Sky Reserves
Reserves consist of a dark “core” zone surrounded by a populated periphery where policy controls are enacted to protect the darkness of the core.
International Dark Sky Sanctuaries
Sanctuaries are the most remote (and often darkest) places in the world whose conservation state is most fragile.
Dark Sky Developments of Distinction
Developments of Distinction recognize subdivisions, master planned communities, and unincorporated neighborhoods and townships whose planning actively promotes a more natural night sky but does not qualify them for the International Dark Sky Community designation.
Dark Sky Parks! Yes! I was finally onto something. With a couple of well placed mouse clicks I found myself on the ‘Search for a Find Dark Sky Place’ page. Using the search bar, I was able to instantly find Dark Sky Reserves, Sanctuaries , Parks and Communities around the World. As I held my breath, I typed ‘Texas’ in the search box and hit ‘enter’.
My query produced four Dark Sky Parks in the State of Texas, three within a 4 hour drive and one that is at least an 8 hour trek. As happy as I was that I finally found a place to photograph the night sky, I also found myself a little unsettled by the fact that in the entire State of Texas there are only four Dark Sky Parks, and dismayed at how few existed in the entire U.S.
I’ve decided that I will journey to Coppers Break State Park near the Panhandle of Texas. Having already made plans to visit nearby Palo Duro Canyon State Park just a few miles Northwest, I can incorporate a stop to Coppers Break. Sadly, my Astrophotography project is now on hold.
Although I am disappointed that I will not be shooting photos of the night sky in the near future, I’ve now become acutely aware of light pollution and its multiple effects on our environment. Have we become so accustomed to not seeing the night sky that we’ve never given it a second thought? How many kids now living in the city have never seen the Milky Way in the night sky? Will we one day lose our night sky where future generations will never see a black sky sparkling with a billion stars?
Food for thought.
I am not a hard-core environmentalist by any means. I do my best to recycle, I keep my car running clean, etc. This has been a very enlightening lesson for me and I hope you come away with a little more awareness yourself.
Tomorrow I will go against ‘all things photography’ tradition and write a bit about the International Dark Sky Association as a show of support.