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Fighting to Preserve America’s Darkness

Science By

Under The Stars
 

Due to widespread urbanization and development, our perspective of the night sky is a fraction of what our ancestors saw. That’s not to say we can’t experience the stars in their natural state: it just takes a little time to get there. These places, called dark sky preserves, are remote swathes of land with a view of the night sky unobfuscated by light pollution. In other words, they are home to the some of the clearest stargazing on the planet.
Cherry Springs Star Trails version 2

 

A dark preserve in Pennsylvania, called Cherry Springs State Park, is one the darkest places in America. Journalist Amanda Petrusich caught up with some astronomers at Cherry Springs State Park to explain how it became such a haven from light pollution:

“Cherry Springs is singular in that it is located less than 300 miles inland from the Eastern Seaboard, in a region—the East Coast—that contains 36 percent of the country’s total population and is lit up like one of those backstage makeup mirrors every night of the year. When pinpointed on a satellite image, Cherry Springs is in the middle of an uncharacteristically dark patch—insulated, on all sides, by protected land (262,000 acres of Susquehannock State Forest, an impenetrable thicket of eastern hemlock and white pine), and perched atop the Allegheny Plateau, 2,300 feet above sea level. Most of the small towns surrounding the park are situated in valleys where outdoor light is already sparse (the 2014 census estimate puts Potter County at just over 17,000 residents).”

Together, these factors combine to make Cherry Springs one of the darkest places in the country. However, that title is being increasingly threatened by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process that extracts natural gas from ground involves burning off the excess gas, which understandably creates a large flame. Local supporters are banding together to prevent fracking companies from continue to operate close to Cherry Springs. To learn more, read the full story here. To gain further appreciation for what can be seen at a dark sky preserve, watch this video at the bottom.

Cherry Springs State Park, PA. - North Star