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Lights out! Jasper National Park to be named world’s largest dark-sky preserve

Posted on March 11, 2011 by Noel

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The Milky Way appears to explode from Athabasca Glacier along the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, the largest dark sky preserve in Canada.
Photograph by: Yuichi Takasaka, edmontonjournal.com

EDMONTON — Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent will formally proclaim Alberta’s Jasper National Park the world’s largest dark-sky preserve on Friday.

“It’s very seldom when I say we should celebrate the fact that we’re in the dark, but I think in this case there is reason to pop a cork or two,” he said from Ottawa this week.

A dark-sky preserve — an area in which no artificial light is visible and measures are in place to educate and promote the reduction of light pollution — are officially recognized by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to offer the public observing sites for night-sky viewing.

At 11,228 square kilometres, Jasper National Park will eclipse the combined total of the rest of the world’s dark-sky preserves, which add up to only one-fifth of the Jasper total.

Of the 11 preserves in Canada, eight are national parks or national historic sites.

Nearly all of south-central Alberta has some degree of light pollution. But most of Jasper National Park has excellent clear skies with no light pollution, Kent said.

And unlike some of the remote dark-sky preserves elsewhere in Canada or the world, it is also highly accessible to the public

Kent said the designation won’t force any changes on the town of Jasper, a popular tourist destination nestled in the Alberta Rockies with a population of about 5,000.

“The parks have always been quite strict in ensuring street lighting, commercial lighting and residential lighting is significantly less than one would find in most of our large urban centres,” he said. “We don’t allow the sorts of commercial signage, for example, or commercial lighting that you would find in a city like Edmonton, or Calgary or Vancouver or Toronto.”

Noting that people wouldn’t go to the town itself to do their observations, Kent said about 97 per cent of the park will be preserved dark space.

Kent confessed he gets a little lost in space when it comes to identifying constellations.

“Wherever I’ve been in the world in my former career as a journalist — and I’ve been in a lot of dark night situations in various parts of the world . . . I struggle when I get much beyond the big dipper and the little dipper and the North Star,” he said.

“But I love being in the company of folks with a deeper knowledge base who can point things out to me . . . And certainly the next time I pass through Jasper I’ll make sure there’s a skilled ranger who can set me straight on what’s where.”

Congratulations Jasper National Park on becoming internationally recognized as the world’s largest dark-sky preserve! More and more individuals from around the world are becoming increasingly aware of how bright our night skies are. News such as this shows a public interest in improving our skies and our lighting principles for future generations to come.

Let there be night!

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