31 December 2008

The Commons of Darkness

Those of us who are city-dwellers rarely see much in the sky at night; we have lost the commons of darkness. As a result, to view the terrifying multitude of stars out in countries with little street lighting is an almost mystical experience.

Against that, er, background, here's an interesting idea:

2009 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope. The excitement is starting early, with Galloway Forest Park in Scotland announcing its plans to become Europe’s first “dark sky park.”

The forest, which covers 300 square miles and includes the foothills of the Awful Hand Range, rates as a 3 on the Bortle scale. The scale, created by John Bortle in 2001, measures night sky darkness based on the observability of astronomical objects. It ranges from Class 9 – Inner City Sky – where "the only celestial objects that really provide pleasing telescopic views are the Moon, the planets, and a few of the brightest star clusters (if you can find them)," to Class 1 – Excellent Dark-Sky Site – where "the galaxy M33 is an obvious naked-eye object" and "airglow… is readily apparent." Class 3 is merely "Rural Sky," meaning that while "the Milky Way still appears complex... M33 is only visible with averted vision."

(Via A Blog Around the Clock.)

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