What do you see when you look up at the sky from outside your home at night? For most Canadians, chances are you'll see some stars — but not nearly as many as you might if you were in a dark-sky preserve, an area open to the public with stringent lighting protocols to help keep the night sky clear.
Yesterday, the International Dark Sky Association announced that it had designated a pair of new dark-sky places in the U.K.: the Northumberland International Dark-Sky Park, a 150,000-hectare expanse in northern England, and the Isle of Coll International Dark-Sky Community, a small island in the inner Hebrides of Scotland whose 200 residents have committed to keeping light pollution from their skies.
"The naming of two new Dark-Sky Places in the U.K. really takes dark skies in Europe to the next level," said IDA Executive Director Bob Parks in a statement. "Weʼre seeing the issue approaching critical mass and placing dark skies along the frontline of conservation issues in Britain. We hope that message extends further to continental Europe and beyond."
It turns out that Canada is something of a world leader in the dark-sky movement (it probably doesn't hurt that the country includes massive uninhabited areas without any lights). Back in 1999, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada named the Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve in Ontario one of the world's first dark-sky preserves. Robert Dick, who manages the RASC's dark-sky certification program, told Strombo.com that artificial night at light can have a "profound impact" on the night environment, affecting plants and wildlife too. "It's never been fully appreciated until about the last 15 years," Dick said.
The RASC has developed the world's first dark-sky guidelines, which set lighting threshholds "where the characteristics of lights don't impact the biology of animals," Dick said. Those guidelines have been adopted by Parks Canada, and as a result, the society has gone on to recognize 17 dark-sky preserves and a pair of urban star parks across the country (the International Dark-Sky Association has its own certification system, and only recognizes Mont-Mégantic Dark-Sky Preserve in Quebec so far).
Some recent Canadian preserves are the largest in the world: Alberta's Jasper National Park, which got the designation in 2011, is nearly 1.1 million hectares, and Wood Buffalo National Park, also in Alberta and designated this year, spans 4.4 million hectares.
To find the dark-sky preserve closest to you, head over to the RASC website.