In a dark place, but loving it


Opening our eyes to an abundance of stars in the night sky is the goal of International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) director of conservation, John Barentine.
On a visit to Naseby last week, Dr Barentine was enjoying seeing the sky at night without the effects of light pollution, he said.
‘‘We’ve had two good, clear nights with the moon down, and I am overwhelmed by how dark it is here, and across the entire sky.’’
Based in Tucson, Arizona, Dr Barentine was delighted to see the stars of the southern hemisphere, he said.
‘‘This is my first trip to the southern hemisphere, and the night sky is a completely different place than the one I am familiar with, and so for me it’s been a real education, learning new constellations, and I am really enjoying it.’’
Dr Barentine met representatives of Naseby Vision, which were applying for International Dark Sky Community status.
‘‘I think for Naseby it’s a point of community pride. It’s a reflection of the standard of living, or the quality of life in the town, that people are interested in preserving the character of the town the way that it is, and wanting to be very proactive about how they represent that.’’
The town would be the focus of worldwide attention when it got the status, Dr Barentine said.
There were only 18 designated dark sky communities in the world, with most of them in the United States.
‘‘This would be the first one in the southern hemisphere.’’
Astrotourism was one benefit of having the designation, and there was some evidence in the United States that the designation had a good impact on property values, he said.
The light pollution difference between a place like Naseby and Auckland or Wellington was that in the cities, someone could see a couple of hundred stars, but in a dark place like Naseby, ‘‘you’ll see thousands of them’’.
While travelling around the country during the past week, there had been some good examples of night lighting, but ‘‘I’ve also seen really terrible lighting’’.
A common form of road lighting he had seen in New Zealand had lights tilted up at an angle of about five degrees, which meant ‘‘some fraction of that light escapes into the night sky’’.
This light pollution could be seen ‘‘dozens or even hundreds of kilometres away’’.
‘‘Even if you are far from a city, if you look back in the direction of that city, at night you’ll see a glow over the city that we call a light dome, and that’s all the light that’s coming up from the ground and is being scattered off in some direction.’’
Alternative designs that were ‘‘fully shielded’’ would reduce light emitting into the night sky.