How Dark is the Park?

by Mary Thill | Nature and Environment

One of the most recognizable constellations in the winter sky is Orion, the hunter with a belt of three stars. Even if you don’t know much about astronomy, you can probably find Orion, and if you can do that, you can help track light pollution.

Starting Sunday, Globe at Night is recording citizen observations of Orion from around the world. In the Adirondacks, the constellation can be found in the southwestern sky in the evening. And in the Adirondacks, unless you’re standing near a prison or a brightly lit parking lot, you are among the lucky ones who can still see it clearly. As much as two thirds of the world’s population can no longer see the Milky Way because of light pollution, according to NASA.

It’s pretty easy to participate. Just go outside around 8 o’clock one night March 3–12 and look up. You’ll have to determine your latitude and longitude and take note of local conditions: urban or rural; lights in the vicinity; hazy, clear or cloudy. Finally, note how many stars you can see in Orion, and in the sky in general. If you’re in town, you might see no stars. But if you’re way back in the woods you might see Orion plus hundreds or even thousands of other specks. (To preview the range of views you can expect, look at this chart of eight different magnitudes of visibility before going out.)

Enter your information on, and that’s it. Your data will be used to map the quality of star-gazing around the world. “Light pollution threatens not only our right to starlight but can affect energy consumption, wildlife and health. People in 115 countries contributed over 83,000 measurements during the campaigns each winter/spring over the last seven years,” Globe at Night reports.

No Adirondack community has been smarter about conserving its night skies than Tupper Lake. The town and several institutions there have installed streetlights that direct beams downward to prevent light from diluting the view above. A passionate group of volunteers has been working for years to construct the Adirondack Public Observatory near Little Wolf Beach. The first component, a roll-off-roof observatory, will open late this spring.

Tupper Lake values a very, very dark sky, says APO president Keith Wells, not just for the benefit of its residents but also to attract amateur astronomers from bleached-out downstate cities. “One thing we are going to be promoting is that we are a destination for stargazing,” he explains. Visitors can hike, fish and paddle during the day, then view the sky through telescopes at night. “We’re really excited about the things we’re doing,” Wells says.

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