Cedar Breaks National Monument

Dark Skies – Like No Where Else

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By Mark Havnes

Ah, the wilderness of dark skies!

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Cedar Breaks NM offers beautiful dark skies. Photo by Mike Saemisch.

While traveling through southern Utah, there is still plenty to see when the blazing sunsets fade. Just turn your eyes skyward and revel in the starry extravagance enhanced by some of the best dark skies in the lower 48, including the silvery arc of the Milky Way.

The stars, and earthly parties they inspire, are growing in popularity with some of the best held at Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks. Just three of the seven parks and monuments in Utah – more than in any other state – designated as Dark Sky Places by the International Dark-Sky Association.

The parks offer astronomical lectures, star parties and other nocturnal activities through the summer. Schedules of events and programs can be found at nps.org or darksky.org.

The Dark-Sky Association works with the National Park Service and communities to enhance the star-gazing experience through preserving the velvety blackness of night, a quality easily diminished by urban expansion, such as allowing artificial light to escape upward or focusing it where it is not needed. The effects of light pollution – the easiest type of pollution to mitigate – not only reduces the visibility of the universe but can adversely effect the health cycles of humans and disrupt the nocturnal activities of animals, crucial to their survival.

Zach Schierl, the education specialist and dark-sky coordinator at Cedar Breaks National Monument, said that true dark skies no longer exist east of the Mississippi River. In Los Angeles, overwhelming the stars by artificial light is so bad, that during nighttime power outages, people will call the Griffin Observatory wondering what the silver cloud in the sky is.

“It’s the Milky Way,” said Schierl. “These people didn’t even know it was their own galaxy staring them in the face.”

Still, it is unlikely that no matter how dark the sky, one will ever see the cherry-red Tesla convertible that automobile and rocket magnate Elon Musk launched into space recently and is now cruising even deeper into space. Unless, maybe, the “spaceman” in the driver’s seat slams on the brakes!

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