A new place has just gained recognition and protection as a spot where people can view the night sky in all of its glory.The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has added Geauga Park District's Observatory Park in Ohio to its list of International Dark Sky Parks — locations that, according to the IDA, have "exceptional starry skies and natural nocturnal habitat where light pollution is mitigated and natural darkness is valuable as an important educational, cultural, scenic, and natural resource."
The park includes 1,023 acres in Geauga County, and offers five telescope pads where amateur astronomers can set up their equipment. During public programs, visitors will have chances to use a 25.5-inch Newtonian and a 36-inch Cassegrain telescope housed in separate observatories. The park's lighting is astronomy-friendly: the fixtures are fully shielded and dim automatically when the Moon is bright.
"This is what happens when the local park district and the local astronomy group cooperate," says Ian Cooper, president of the local Chagrin Valley Astronomical Society (CVAS). "And it hasn't cost the taxpayers a penny." The entire project was funded by donations.
CVAS is considering adding solar and radio telescopes in the future. Students will be able to use all of the park's telescopes to do research and in the process learn about scientific methods.
And, the public will get an clearer sense of how important seeing a pristine dark sky is. "How many people in the suburbs have seen the Milky Way?", asks Cooper.The IDA has been fighting light pollution since 1988. Its International Dark Sky Places program certifies locations as either International Dark Sky Communities, Parks, or Reserves. For a location to make the list, it must not only have a dark sky but also have fully shielded light fixtures, go through a lighting audit, provide access to the public, and create an education program touting dark-sky stewardship. The certification process takes about a year.
"This group did an incredible amount of work in getting local participation," says Mario Motta, an amateur astronomer from Massachusetts on the IDA's board of directors. "The park will serve as a great resource for Ohio, letting its residents see a dark sky and providing enormous benefits for the wildlife, a true win-win situation for all."