Driftless Dark Skies

I am happy to be celebrating four years of writing for Voice of the River Valley and encouraging folks to go outside at night, look up and be awed by the view of our home in the solar system, Milky Way and cosmos. Unfortunately, we are losing what we love. Our artificial lights are creating a sky glow that is making it more and more challenging to see the starry skies. The stars are going to be just fine, but we humans and other members of the ecosystem might not be. We are squandering money and are making the landscape less safe. More and more research is emerging showing how artificial light is disrupting our sleep, destroying our health, degrading our environment, interfering with pollinators and confusing migrators. We are losing our heritage of a night sky that has inspired so much science, art, music, and literature.

This loss is not an invitation to despair. There are simple steps we can take to bring back the night. Use only the light we need when and where we need it. Use lower lumen bulbs with timers and motion sensors. Shield the lights and direct them down to reduce trespass and glare. Choose bulbs with warmer amber light rather than cooler blue light. Educate yourself and neighbors and friends with the wonderful resources at the International Dark Sky Association website. Tell your town, village or city that you would like them to use lights that have the IDA Dark Sky Fixture Seal of Approval. As we transition to LED lighting and its greater efficiency, there is a wonderful opportunity to have lights that are friendlier to humans and other living things. Work with county and state parks to create dark sky sites. Just as state natural areas preserve unique local ecosystems, dark sky sites preserve our access to the cosmic ecosystem where galaxies are making the stars that make the elements that make life and stargazers possible. Together we can pass on to the next generations their birthright of dark skies.

You are invited to learn even more about dark skies this month. On Oct. 7, John Rummel will be the guest speaker at the 7 p.m. monthly meeting of Iowa County Astronomers at Dodgeville Public Library. John is a skilled photographer and amateur astronomer sharing the story of his journey around the Driftless and at national parks in search of the darkest skies. On Oct. 12, I will be sharing a session with Lynda Schweikert at the State of the Riverway Symposium in Sauk City. We’ll show you how to preserve and enjoy the amazing dark skies of the Driftless. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — The Lorax

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. For more information about stargazing in southwestern Wisconsin, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies above.