Dark Sky Sanctuary established in New England

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine was certified as a Dark Sky Sanctuary on May 8, 2020.

Landscape under Milky Way and very starry sky.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Image via John Meader/ IDA.

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Exceptionally dark skies are breathtaking. They are also becoming rare as result of light pollution. To help protect the spectacular dark skies at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, this area was certified as a Dark Sky Sanctuary on May 8, 2020. This is the first such sanctuary designation in New England and along the entire eastern seaboard of the United States.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) launched the Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to help protect areas around the world that offer stunning views of the night sky and to increase public awareness about the need to reduce light pollution. Chosen sites are awarded one of six designations, such as Dark Sky Communities that have implemented outdoor lighting ordinances for conservation purposes and Dark Sky Parks that offer educational programs to visitors. The Dark Sky Sanctuary designation is reserved for remote areas that are among the darkest in the world.

Silhouette of a dead tree by a rushing brook under a medium blue sky with short star trails.

Time exposure photo of the night sky over the East Branch of the Penobscot River, at the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument near Patten, Maine. Image via Robert F. Bukaty/ AP/ Bangor Daily News.

Tim Hudson, superintendent at Katahdin Woods and Waters, commented on the new sanctuary designation in a statement. He said:

This designation is the culmination of a long-term effort by a dedicated group of people and is an exciting event in the short history of the monument. Designation as a Dark Sky Sanctuary recognizes this incredible resource that does not [exist] in many places today in this country, much less anywhere else in New England. Experiencing the night skies here will take you back in time to the night skies first experienced by the Wabanaki 11,000 years ago and the many people who have followed in their footsteps since, including John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt, and others.

According to the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, the night skies here rank as a 2 on the Bortle Scale – the scale ranges from 1 for the darkest skies to 9 for inner city skies – which means that the Milky Way can be viewed in exceptional detail at this location in Maine. The Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters host an annual Stars Over Katahdin party for stargazers and astronomers. The 2020 Stars Over Katahdin event will feature a virtual presentation on October 15, 2020, for anyone who wishes to learn more about this remarkable place.

The International Dark Sky Association is also encouraging everyone to take night sky measurements from their hometowns this year for the Globe at Night project. The citizen science data that are being collected will enable future research projects on a variety of issues such as the effects of light pollution on wildlife and human health and trends in energy consumption costs.

Bottom line: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine was certified as a Dark Sky Sanctuary on May 8, 2020. This is the first such sanctuary site established in New England.

Deanna Conners