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Special Edition

Safeguarding Our Starry Night Sky

Discover the magic of proposing under the pristine night sky, explore the impact of light pollution, and learn how DarkSky International is preserving our celestial wonderlands.

Photo by Adobe Stock

I don’t have any photos of when I proposed to my wife. We were visiting Great Basin National Park one summer night with my family, and we’d just taken part in the park’s astronomy program where we looked at the night sky through high-powered telescopes. Ring in my pocket, I pulled my then-girlfriend to step off into the woods with me to have a look at the stars alone.

The glittering array on that celestial ceiling was captivating. I wish I could say that my wife’s eyes were just as bright as the stars above, but in truth, I couldn’t even see her. And nobody could see us, either. It was just too dark. Hence, no proposal pictures. It was there, under the twinkling stars of the Milky Way on that warm summer night, that I asked my wife to marry me.

Great Basin National Park, which was designated a Dark Sky Park in 2016, is one of the few places I’ve seen the stars in all their majesty. My family has lived near Great Basin National Park for the better part of my life, so the stars even in the rural areas are bright.

When I was younger, my dad and I would go into our backyard, and he’d show me constellations. I learned where the North Star was, along with several of the more noticeable constellations, like Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), Cassiopeia, the Seven Sisters, and Orion. To this day, Orion is still my favorite.

But the thing I loved most about those times with my dad was looking up and seeing the infinite expanse of stars. It’s a sight people have been transfixed with since the dawn of time. On winter nights when I’m walking outside, I still look up and try to see the many stars that dot the night sky.

However, the skies over rural Nevada are not the same as the ones over the Wasatch Front in Utah where I’m currently living. Although going stargazing is a popular pastime among young adults my age, the number of stars that can be easily seen is at an all-time low. I often look for my favorite constellations or the comfort of the lights above only to find a few of the brightest grains out of that beautiful mess of spilled salt in the sky.

These days, this isn’t an uncommon story. Light pollution continues to wreak havoc on our night sky, and the number of visible stars continues to go down. If left unchecked, future generations will not be able to see the stars at all.

Thankfully, in 1987, a group called DarkSky International, founded by Tim Hunter, began to take notice and take action. DarkSky is a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting and maintaining dark-sky areas, designated places where the night sky and all its stars are kept visible and unmolested by light pollution.

To this day, there are now over 200 Dark Sky Places that cover over 160,000 square kilometers of land in over 22 countries on every continent except Antarctica. This is an incredible number. However, in the greater context of the world, this only accounts for 0.001 percent of the surface area of land on Earth.

The requirements to be certified as a Dark Sky Place are quite extensive; not every area with a clear view of the sky can be certified. In fact, there are even different kinds of certifications that an area might receive based on a variety of factors. The certifications range from International Dark Sky Sanctuaries, remote areas with very clear skies to International Dark Sky Communities, which are cities and towns with proper outdoor lighting fixtures and light-pollution education.

But regardless of the certification, each Dark Sky Place is guaranteed to inspire awe. But before you jump in and add visiting these Dark Sky Parks to your list of vacation to-dos, DarkSky has a few tips and recommendations to help you minimize the light pollution you create at home and preserve the night sky while visiting a Dark Sky Place.

Use light only if it’s absolutely necessary. Excess light can increase pollution and is potentially harmful to certain types of wildlife, so make sure you’re only using light if it’s necessary for whatever you’re trying to do.

Target your light. Wide beams can emit excess light into the atmosphere, so where possible, buy focused or shielded lights and try to keep your light pointed toward the ground.

Keep your light at the lowest level needed. The human eye is very good at working with a limited amount of light, so keep your light soft. The softer the light, the less pollution that could get launched into the sky.

Invest in ways to minimize your passive light usage. Set timers, use motion detectors, or just be aware and try to minimize the amount of time your light is on.

Use warm-colored light. Red-orange light has a much longer wavelength than blue-violet light, which is the wavelength of light that most often gets trapped in the sky. Switching to these warmer-toned lights can significantly reduce light pollution.

Getting engaged under a sea of stars is something my wife and I will never forget, which was only thanks to the Dark Sky Place at Great Basin National Park. If you haven’t seen the Milky Way, I highly recommend seeing it at least once (or twice) in your life. And there’s no better place to see it than at a Dark Sky Place.

For more information on Dark Sky Places or to learn more about light pollution and its effect on the world, visit