Mike reports from the Third International Starlight Conference at Lake Tekapo in New Zealand
Church of the Good Shepherd – Tekapo. Copyright Fraser Gunn Photography
Two representatives of Sydney Outdoor Lighting Improvement Society (SOLIS), myself and Ken Petersen, recently returned from Lake Tekapo and Mount John Observatory in the South Island of New Zealand. At Lake Tekapo we attended the Third International Starlight Conference where Prof. John Hearnshaw of The University of Canterbury announced that the area surrounding Mt John Observatory and Tekapo has been declared by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserve. This is the largest IDA Dark Sky Reserve so far declared.
Mount John Observatory, like many astronomical observatories, is facing deteriorating darkness of their night sky due to urban pressure from increasing population and the subsequent increase in night time lighting. The Observatory itself is open to the public during the day and also permits some night tours with observing. Under the starry skies of Mount John many of the finer objects of the southern sky stand out in brilliance and the Magellanic Clouds are easily seen.
Mt John Observatory – Lake Tekapo NZ. Copyright Michael Chapman
The Conference ran over three days and covered many topics including Light Pollution, Astro-Tourism, Cultural Astronomy. I attended for SOLIS to describe our work in Sydney and to hear how the issues around outdoor lighting are being dealt with around the world. The Conference itself was part of the Starlight Initiative, which was born from a meeting at La Palma Observatory at which the La Palma Declaration was promulgated. The La Palma Declaration has a number of objectives and at its heart it aims to conserve the view of a starry sky and that all people have a right to see a starry sky and that a starry sky is a component of our ecosystem. The La Palma Declaration has become an initiative of UNESCO. The Starlight Initiative has resulted in the concept of a Starlight Reserve that will be designated as such by UNESCO. The new Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR), comprised of the Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin, may become the first UNESCO ‘Starlight Reserve’.
Further information on the new International Dark Sky Reserve is in the IDA Press Release of 9 June 2012:
Organizers of the new reserve recognize that the night sky has played a critical role in the area’s history as its first residents, the Maori, used the night sky not only to navigate to the island but also integrated astronomy and star lore into their culture and daily lives. The reserve seeks to honor that history by keeping the night sky as a protected and integral part of the area’s natural and cultural landscape. It is a perfect place to protect and honor those traditions as the IDSR’s Mackenzie Basin has the clearest, darkest and the most spectacular night sky in New Zealand.
Outdoor lighting controls were first put into place in the area during the early 1980s. They have helped to minimize light pollution not only for the nearby Mt. John Observatory, but to conserve energy, protect wildlife and to make the area a popular stargazing destination for tourists. For the past several years increased efforts have been focused on strengthening these protections in the formation of the International Dark Sky Reserve.