Nfld. & Labrador

In the stars: Terra Nova National Park named Canada's newest Dark Sky Preserve

Star gazers have a new space dedicated to preserving the beauty of the night sky in central Newfoundland.

Royal Astronomical Society designation the first for N.L.

Visitors can climb an old fire tower at Ochre Hill to check out the landscape during the day or star gaze at night. (Parks Canada)

Terra Nova has always been a great place to get lost in the beauty of a starry sky, and now it's official.

The Royal Astronomical Society has designated the 400-square kilometre national park in central Newfoundland as the province's first Dark Sky Preserve.

"What it means is we're trying to reduce artificial light pollution and improve visibility of the night sky, and of course ... reduce energy consumption as well," said Karen Wolfrey, Terra Nova's acting superintendent Newfoundland east field unit.

A new viewing platform built next to the fire tower at Ochre Hill. There is also a viewing platform at Blue Hill. (Submitted by Karen Wolfrey)

The park — with its dense forest and secluded coastlines — officially became Canada's 20th Dark Sky Preserve on Feb. 26, 2018. 

As part of the designation, light fixtures are being adjusted, retrofitted or eliminated to reduce light pollution and energy consumption. 

The park has also been working with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) St. John's since 2013 to develop a series of programs and activities to help visitors learn about the night sky and the impacts of artificial light glare.

The RASC St. John's Centre holds special events at Terra Nova, with the annual Night Sky Celebration happening in August. (Submitted by Karen Wolfrey)

Dark Sky Preserves also promote the protection of nocturnal habitats for birds, bats, insects and amphibians.

While the entire park is part of the preserve, Wolfrey said staff tested the light pollution in areas with easy access and identified four key viewing areas: Sandy Pond, Blue Hill, Salton's Brook and Ochre Hill.

In 2017, the park also started offering viewing kits to visitors.

"There's tools inside to help them with night-sky viewing — binoculars, star finders, moon-gazing guides — to help them get a better appreciation of the night sky," said Wolfrey.

The Milky Way, seen from Sandy Pond. (Submitted by Karen Wolfrey)

The park will hold its annual Night Sky Celebration on Aug. 10 and 11, with volunteers from RASC St. John's offering telescopic views of the moon, planets and deep sky objects at night, as well as solar viewing during the day.

Terra Nova National Park is the 11th Parks Canada property to receive designation, and the 20th Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. 

With files from On The Go