What We Do

Milky Way rising over Wheeler Peak at Great Basin National Park
Milky Way rising over Wheeler Peak at Great Basin National Park.

NPS / Dan Duriscoe

As part of the mission of the National Park Service, the Night Skies Team actively assists parks and partners in protecting and restoring night sky resources and values, nocturnal wildlife environments, and opportunities for astronomy-based recreation opportunities throughout the National Park System. Outdoor lighting can obscure naturally dark night skies; therefore, we work collaboratively with parks and partners to reduce the effects of light pollution and restore natural lightscapes by doing the follow actions described below.

Measure Night Sky Brightness
The Night Skies Team uses a suite of calibrated instruments to document the existing condition of night skies, support parks in long-term monitoring, and measure the color spectra of light. The Night Skies Team, along with park staff, citizens, astronomers, and scientists measures the night sky brightness overhead. For more information on the instruments we use, please click here.

Document Outdoor Lighting in Parks
To understand natural night skies and potential light pollution on this resource, we need to locate and assess all the individual lights in a park. This is being done online using a field data protocol. This process or workflow was developed by the Night Skies Team and is used by parks that are Dark Sky Place certified, and by parks that are currently retrofitting their lighting with newer more efficient and dark sky friendly lighting.

Improve Lighting Design in Parks
The Night Skies Team has special software that can model different lighting choices that parks are presented with when evaluating project proposals to improve the quality of the night skies for the visitor experience, cultural landscapes and historic properties, wilderness character, and wildlife environments. In addition, we use six basic sustainable outdoor lighting principles when assisting parks with new installations and construction projects, lighting removals, lighting retrofits, and general park planning efforts. For information about Dark Sky approved lighting products, please click here.

Collaborate with Gateway Communities and Partners
Working with non-profit organizations, local governments, and parks we support lighting inventories and application of best practices. In addition, we provide presentations and support stargazing at many of the joint events held within gateway communities. We also support communities that are working towards lighting retrofits to improve outdoor lighting to protect night skies.

Increase the Scientific Knowledge About Artificial Light at Night
We collaborate with universities and research labs to conduct scientific research that is used by park natural resource managers to plan and manage the natural night skies with the best scientific knowledge possible. For more on our contributions to the scientific knowledge base click here.

Communicate the benefits of protecting night skies
For the Night Skies Team, educating park staff, partners, and the public is a fun and rewarding part of what we do. We share the message that good lighting practices are beneficial to park visitors, the ecosystem and ultimately the world, including your own backyard. We are able to do this in a number of ways, such as, working with park interpreters so that they can give night sky talks specific to their park, we travel and give scientific presentations at parks and international venues, and we support non-profit organizations that provide support for reducing artificial light at night.

For more information about what we do please visit our Night Skies Storymap
three researchers stand next to equipment for measuring night sky brightness
Measuring Sky Brightness

Click on image above to learn how we measure sky brightness.

Infographic with six outdoor lighting principles
Outdoor Lighting Principles

Click on image above to learn about the NPS Outdoor Lighting Principles/ Best Management Practices

Scientific Research is typed across the surface of the moon and earth
Scientific Research

Click on image above to learn more about how the Night Skies Program works towards advancing scientific research

Awards reception for work between NPS and the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative
Partnerships Protect Night Skies

Click on image above to learn about our current major partnerships.

Last updated: June 13, 2024