Despite all that’s gone on in the world this year, there have been some incredible advances in science and especially in astronomy and space science. One such area that has been overlooked is in protecting the night sky against light pollution, the mission of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
The IDA provides guidance and certification for destinations around the world who seek to protect the natural resource of darkness in their area; this ranges from protecting urban dark sky places and communities to the coveted statuses of “Dark Sky Park,” “Reserve,” and “Sanctuary” which protect increasingly pristine dark skies respectively.
In 2020, the IDA certified 20 new locations at the various levels of dark sky protection. Though we haven’t been able to travel to many of them due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, it’s worth highlighting the effort and success these areas have had in ensuring the night sky is a resource we can enjoy in the future. Here are the 20 locations you can add to your future travel plans.
1. Alpes Azur Mercantour, France
The first new dark sky place in 2020, the Alpes Azur Mercantour was recognized as a Dark Sky Reserve in January. It is the third such location with this designation in France, joining Pic du Midi and Cévennes National Park.
2. Dr. T.K. Lawless Park, Michigan
Located in Cass County along the Michigan-Indiana Border, Dr. T.K. Lawless Park became the second Dark Sky Park in Michigan in January. The process of certification took 2.5 years, showing how long it takes destinations to reach the qualifications needed to be certified by the IDA.
3. Fredericksburg, Texas
The city of Fredricksburg, Texas became the first Dark Sky Community of 2020, achieving certification in late February. Dark Sky Communities must meet similar but slightly different standards of night sky protection than Parks, Reserves, and Sanctuaries – one of the primary criteria is around citizen engagement and private residence lighting ordinance compliance.
While the country of New Zealand has been hard at work to achieve a coveted status as a dark sky country, the island nation of Niue became the first Dark Sky Place in the world. This unique distinction sets the way for other light-conscious countries to try and achieve the same status. Read more in Forbes coverage at the time of the announcement.
5. Helper, Utah
The small mountain community of Helper, Utah became the second Dark Sky Community certified in 2020. Often passed through on the way to Utah’s many other dark sky sites, Helper is now worthy of a night of stargazing in its own right. Read more in Forbes coverage at the time of the announcement.
6. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine
Achieving the highest level of dark sky protection, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine became the first Dark Sky Sanctuary of 2020, certified in early May. This location is far from urban light and ideal for both stargazing and viewing the aurora during winter months when the conditions are right. Read more in Forbes coverage at the time of the announcement.
7. Wai-iti Recreational Reserve and Tunnicliff Forest, New Zealand
While New Zealand already has a number of certified dark sky places, it did not yet have one of the “Dark Sky Park” status. This changed in early July when Wai-iti Recreational Reserve and Tunnicliff Forest achieved the certification. The area joins one Dark Sky Reserve (Aoraki-Mackenzie), and two Dark Sky Sanctuaries (Aotea/Great Barrier Island and Stewart Island/Rakiura) in propelling New Zealand toward Dark Sky Nation status.
8. Ridgway, Colorado
Announced in early July, Ridgway, Colorado also became Dark Sky Community in 2020. It is the third such in Colorado and one of only 28 in the world. The community of Ridgway spent two years adjusting light ordinances and working to engage local citizens before applying for certification in early 2020 and being granted the distinction a few months later.
9. Sunriver, Oregon
The IDA has worked over the years to come up with certification levels that are both consistent and accommodating for the different opportunities each destination has to improve light pollution. Sunriver, Oregon is one such destination that received a less-common Dark Sky Friendly Development of Distinction in early August; it was the last place to receive this designation before that term was retired in late 2020.
10. Hawthorn Woods, Illinois
Continuing the theme of certifying Dark Sky Communities in 2020, the IDA announced that Hawthorn Woods, Illinois had achieved that status in late August. Hawthorn Woods is just 40 miles north of Chicago, providing evidence that concerted effort can help reduce light pollution even near major urban areas.
11. East Canyon State Park, Utah
Located in northeastern Utah far from the popular dark sky destinations like Dead Horse Point State Park and the many national parks of southern Utah, East Canyon State Park was designated as a Dark Sky Park in late August. This certification made Utah the U.S. state with the greatest number of IDA-certified dark sky places in the country (overtaking Arizona).
12. Davagh Forest Park, Northern Ireland
In early September, Northern Ireland received its first IDA certification. Davagh Forest Park, located near the center of the country, is the first Dark Sky Park in Northern Ireland and one of only 85 worldwide. The site is popular for mountain biking during the day; now it will be more popular for stargazing at night too. Read more in Forbes coverage at the time of the announcement.
13. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
In mid-September, the world’s largest Dark Sky Sanctuary was announced in Minnesota. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness spans some 1,098,000 acres and has over 2,000 campsites within the region. While it’s primarily popular for summer adventures, it will now draw visitors for night skies year-round and winter aurora. Read more in Forbes coverage at the time of the announcement.
14. Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah
Located on the edge of urban development between Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah, Timpanogos Cave National Monument received the designation of Urban Night Sky Place, only the second one in the world (the other being Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico).
15. Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, North Carolina
Formerly a NASA research facility, the historic Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) was designated as a Dark Sky Park in late September. PARI was formerly used for scientific research using a number of telescopes including a 4.6-meter radio telescope named “Smiley” for its distinctive design. Now the location will host events for public astronomy outreach.
16. Slumgullion Center, Colorado
With no current lighting at all, Slumgullion Center in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains was designated as a Dark Sky Park, also in late September. This lack of development presents a blank canvas for those who want to promote the night sky: all future lighting will be IDA compliant and ensure that the darkness overhead is maintained.
17. Kozushima, Japan
After a gap in certifications, Kozushima, Japan became the next IDA dark sky place when it achieved designation as a Dark Sky Park in early December. Kozushima is located off the coast of Tokyo, but is far enough from the city’s bright lights to present excellent stargazing opportunities much closer to the urban areas of Japan. (Japan’s other dark sky place is in far southwestern Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park.)
18. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Snagging a second certification in 2020, Minnesota is home to a new Dark Sky Park in Voyageurs National Park. The announcement was made in early December and helps protect the dark skies above this popular stargazing and aurora-viewing destination in the northern part of the state.
19. The Yorkshire Dales & North York Moors National Parks, UK
Announced at the same time, both Yorkshire Dales National Park and North York Mores National Park were designated Dark Sky Parks on the same day in early December. The effort was coordinated by teams at both parks working together to help ensure lighting ordinance compliance and represents one of the largest areas in Europe to be simultaneously designated.
20. Medicine Rocks State Park, Montana
Last but certainly not least, Medicine Rocks State Park became the final IDA dark sky place certified in 2020. The announcement was made that Montana received its first Dark Sky Park designation on the winter solstice. The unique geologic area will now be protected both on earth and above to help future generations enjoy the night sky there.
These 20 locations highlight a global effort to reduce light pollution and protect the night sky. A number of new destinations will likely be designated in 2021, and will give even more inspiration for places to go stargazing again soon.