August: Dark, Scarf, Glüwine

Today’s post: where Covering Ground meets girly chick adventure mag meets Buzzfeed.

Looking for an excuse to get off the couch and under some stars? Here are three great reasons to grab your beanie and mittens, throw on a warm jacket and get under the night sky this August:

1.  When Planets Align . . . 

In August, five planets will be visible in the night sky at the same time. This event of neighbourly planetary alignment is rare(ish)*, and definitely one worth heating up the mulled wine for.

This is special for a couple of reasons. We are often able to see planets in the night sky, but it’s quite rare to see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn all at once. Additionally, many night sky phenomena can only be seen with a telescope or in very dark skies, but experts say we should be able to see this one in the city with the naked eye.

For Australians, the best time to cast your eyes skyward is around 7pm, before Venus and Mercury dip below the horizon. Later in October is better, and apparently the 21st is the pick of the dates, mainly because of the position and phase of the moon.

 

2.  How Dark is your Sky?

August is the official Globe at Night month.

Global at Night is a citizen science initiative supported by the National Science Foundation (US), that aims to raise public awareness of light pollution around the world.  Light pollution is increasingly becoming recognized as a dark force negatively influencing the life cycles of nocturnal animals, as well as human health and astronomical research.

You can help the NSF catalogue artificial light pollution by logging the night sky from your backyard using your computer or smartphone. This information is fed back to the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in the United States, where maps demonstrating the intensity of light pollution are generated.

Last year people from 104 countries participated in Globe at Night, and Australia was a little under represented. This year we have an opportunity to put our night skies on the map. You can sign up here.

 

3.  Bright News for Dark Skies

With a population that keeps lighting – for the most part – to the coasts, and vast deserts that weave across the interior, Australia is known for its spectacular night skies.  In a step to secure some of these immaculate skyscapes for future generations, the Warrumbungle National Park in western New South Wales was declared Australia’s first Dark Sky Park last month.

Much like a traditional National Park, Dark Sky Parks are recognised for their unique natural wonder.  But rather than being celebrated for their geology, ecology and wildlife, they are recognised for their brilliant celestial displays and dark night skies.  They are also protected from developments that may threaten their intrinsic value by increasing the output of artificial light. For Dark Sky Parks this may mean limiting development, or investing in lighting technologies that limit the reflection of artificial light skyward.

Australia is at the forefront of a growing movement to protect the value of starry nights from artificial light.  This movement is being spearheaded by the International Dark-Sky Association.

The IDA is a US-based organisation that was founded in 1988 with the purpose of ‘protecting the night skies for present and future generations’. They do this in several ways, including:

  • Educating the public and policymakers about the importance of a dark night sky;
  • Advocating for protection of the night sky through the designation of Dark Sky Parks, Reserves and Places and by promoting environmentally responsible outdoor lighting;
  • Supporting initiatives that seek solutions for wildlife threatened by excess night light.

Australia is right behind this initiative, and the Warrumbungle Dark Sky Park is only the beginning. In Western Australia Dr Kellie Pendoley is working to have Karijini National Park recognized as a Dark Sky Park as well.

This is only the beginning of what promises to be a darker time for Australia.

*The next time this will happen is October 2018.  So not that rare . . .

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