When you come home at night and flip on the lamp switch, do you ever stop to think about what you might be missing?
In 1880, less than 150 years ago, electric light first came to American cities.
In 2017, roughly 80% of people in North America cannot see the Milky Way due to electric lights at night. In other words, our dark night skies often really aren’t all that dark. When was the last time you were able to experience the awe of seeing a sky full of stars? It can be easy to feel disconnected from, or simply forget about, the beauty and sheer vastness of the cosmos. The National Park Service recognizes dark night skies as a valuable resource that needs to be protected.
While Shenandoah National Park may not get as dark as some of the Parks out in the west or northern United States (check out info on how dark skies are rated, 420kb pdf), its high elevation, combined with its relative remoteness from dense urban areas, make the Park a great place to engage in stargazing on the east coast.
On moonless and cloud-free nights it is a wonderful spot to view the Milky Way or some of the 2500 stars visible to the unaided eye that make up one of the 88 official constellations. Finding and observing constellations, phases of the moon, meteor showers, and eclipses can provide a sense of wonder about our place in the universe.
Starting in 2016 Shenandoah National Park began a Night Sky Festival, full of ranger programs and activities to help celebrate our disappearing dark skies. Make sure to check back in early summer to find out our schedule for the year’s festival.