By: Heidi DuPuis
So, what is Dark Sky week?
Dark Sky Week is an annual event aimed at raising awareness about light pollution and its negative impact on the environment and human health. The event takes place during the week of the new moon in April, when the night sky is darkest and stargazing is at its best.
The importance of Dark Sky Week lies in its ability to educate people about the consequences of light pollution, which is the excessive and misdirected artificial light that obstructs our view of the night sky. Light pollution affects not only astronomers and stargazers but also wildlife, including birds, insects, and sea turtles, who rely on the natural cycle of darkness and light to navigate and reproduce.
Moreover, light pollution has been linked to a range of health problems, such as sleep disorders, migraines, and increased risk of certain cancers. It also wastes energy and contributes to climate change. By promoting Dark Sky Week, we can encourage people to take simple steps to reduce light pollution, such as installing low-pressure sodium lamps or shielding outdoor lights. We can also encourage people to turn off unnecessary lights at night, especially during peak migration seasons for birds and other wildlife.
In addition, Dark Sky Week is an opportunity to celebrate the beauty of the night sky and the wonders of the universe. Stargazing can inspire curiosity and wonder, reminding us of our place in the cosmos and our interconnectedness with the natural world.
When did Dark Sky Week Originate?
Just over twenty years ago, Jennifer Barlow began to campaign for a week dedicated to “dark skies,” when everyone would turn out their lights at night. The 15-year-old high school student from Virginia was inspired by a comment from the internet and spread the word via a website for over a year. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer at the time, she gathered support for the idea until the “National Dark Sky Week” was instituted in April of 2003.
Since its inception, Dark Sky Week has been endorsed by many astronomy-related organizations, including the American Astronomical Society and the International Dark-Sky Association. During the event, which is now known as “International Dark Sky Week,” people are encouraged to turn off their lights at night, go outside, and look up. It is also an opportunity to spread an understanding of light pollution, which affects the view we have of the stars. The bright lights of cities, towns, and even suburban street lights, make it difficult to see any but the brightest stars. Jennifer’s dream was to improve the view of the night sky for people everywhere.
When is Dark Sky Week?
In order to achieve the darkest skies possible, the event is observed during the week of the new moon in April, which for 2023 is April 15-22. If you’re lucky enough to have clear skies this week, take the opportunity to turn off unneeded lights and try some sky-gazing. Some of the most easily recognizable constellations that are currently visible are Orion, Ursa Major (The “Big Dipper”), and Ursa Minor (the “Little Dipper”). You may even see some shooting stars – the Leonid meteor shower peaks right at the end of the week, on April 22-23.