Skywatchers wanting to experience some of the darkest skies anywhere in the world have a new dream destination in Africa. This week the Arizona-based International Dark Sky Association (IDA), a night sky preservation advocacy group announced that one of southern Africa’s largest privately own reserves, NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia is not only the world’s newest International Dark Sky Preserve but the continents first.
This coveted designation is given to wilderness areas where the sky quality and darkness are protected from the nuisance of light pollution and people are able to soak in the starry heavens in their pristine state. Canada and England are home to the two other certified International Dark Sky Reserves.
As cosmopolitan areas continue to grow, so does artificial light pollution from street and building lights. As a result maybe only a couple of dozen of the brightest stars are visible from typical urban setting, compared to as many as one to three thousand stars from a remote, dark countryside.
Extending over an area of 172,200 hectares the NamibRand has been actively supporting the management of the unique ecology and wildlife found along the eastern edge of the Namib desert. Tourism directly finances the parks conservation and educational efforts and now by adding this new designation the hope is that it will not only enhance the nature experience but educate people about the heritage of the night sky and the importance of proper lighting.
“The night sky over the NamibRand Nature Reserve is exceptional, as are the efforts the reserve has taken in modifying its lighting for the sake of its wildlife and visitors,” said IDA’s Executive Director Bob Parks in a press release statement.
There`s no doubt that skies in these remote regions of southern Africa are some of the most unspoilt in the world. I have been fortunate enough to spend many weeks at a time in the neighboring Kalahari desert over a number of years - viewing cosmic wonders ranging from Halley`s comet to the Magellanic clouds. However human population is ever increasing – as is the associated light pollution it brings with it – and so in many true wild places, not surprisingly skywatchers are beginning to see the encroaching light domes emanating from those cities on the horizons. This makes it that much more urgent to conserve these precious areas with truly dark skies not only for us but future generations -it`s part of our heritage we need to protect.
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.