View the Night Sky of Valles Caldera
Attend an Astronomy Event:
Laser wielding rangers and volunteers will have high powered telescopes, talks, activities, and more during these amazing events! These public events will be posted on the calendar and via social media, and typically take place monthly from May-September. Follow us @VallesCaldera so that you can keep up to date on the latest at your preserve. When attending an astronomy event, please come well prepared with extra layers for warmth, a camp chair if you like, bring light with a red mode, and put your smart devices into the amber/night mode. There is no running water on the preserve, but the information center sells bottled water, souvenirs, hot beverages, and astronomical educational items. Lastly, please considering volunteering! We welcome astronomers, traffic control, greeters, and much more! Email us to join the volunteer team!
Observe on Your Own:
Currently the only nighttime access points are the pullouts along Highway 4, however as a newer member of the National Park Service, Valles Caldera is working hard to improve access. As we move forward into the important stages of planning and responsible development to improve visitor access, our goal is to protect the cultural and natural resources that make this place so special, such as the night sky. Your input on these efforts, including night sky observation access is critical and will be solicited on the National Park Service Planning Page.
Saving Your Vanishing Resource: the Naturally Dark Sky
The National Park Service, established in 1916, manages American national parks, preserves, and monuments in order to “...conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” (NPS Organic Act, 1916). This mandate includes the preservation of natural night sky conditions, and several park units around the world incorporate dark sky preservation into their management and interpretation.
Valles Caldera Night Sky Partners
Valles Caldera's pristine night sky is partly due to its remoteness and the lack of significant artificial light in the area. Local communities have also helped preserve the night sky by supporting educational outreach and adopting lighting ordinances that prohibit lights that shine up into the sky, higher than a ninety degree angle, overlighting, and lights that are too bright. Current partners include Los Amigos de Valles Caldera, Pajarito Astronomy Club, the Jemez Mountains Night Sky Consortium, the Village of Jemez Springs, the Pajarito Environmental Education Center, Hidden Valley Sporting Goods, New Mexico State Parks, Los Alamos County, and many dedicated individual community members. Please email e-mail us if you are interested in becoming a Valles Caldera night sky partner.
You CAN Help!
Every light makes a difference. You can help preserve the night sky in your community, while increasing nighttime safety and security, while saving money by following the simple guidelines from the International Dark Sky Association.
Why Protect It?
Go Back in Time
Taking a break from the artificial lights of our screens and communities is proven to be beneficial to our health. When we look to the night sky, we step back in time in a scientific sense, because light can travel millions of years to reach us. When we look upon the night sky we are seeing old light. Light that may no longer exist at its source. One way to think about it, is to remember a time when you have heard a plane flying. You look up to where the sound seemed to be coming from, the plane is no longer there. That’s because sound moves in waves, and it takes time for the sound waves to reach you. Light also moves in waves, but much faster. It’s the fastest thing we know of. The light from our sun takes only eight minutes to reach us.
Artificial light at night can negatively affect human health, increasing risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, breast cancer and more. Our biological clocks are driven by day and night which influence the production of melatonin, a hormone which helps us sleep, lowers cholesterol, and boosts the immune system. Humans evolved to live in the day AND at night. In fact, we have night vision! That is, unless we look at artificial light on the bright white or blue spectrum, so it's best to use red lights for observation and amber lights around your homes. They protect your night vision. The size of our iris changes when it is dark. It opens up to let in light, but real dark sight adaptation happens on a chemical level. The backs of our eyes “the retina” are packed with two types of photo detectors, rods and cones. Cones are most useful in daytime vision and collect both color and brightness. Rods help us at night while capturing shades of gray. Unfortunately it can take about 30 minutes for the rods to become fully operational after being exposed to white light. During this time, your rods are building up a protein called Rhodopsin. Any exposure to bright lights can reset the clock down to zero. So how do we combat this? Rods cannot detect red light, so by using red light we can see while preserving our night vision. This includes your smartphones, so when observing, either avoid using them, or at least put them into night mode.
Humans are not the only ones who depend on natural darkness. For all of time, life has relied on Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night. It has become encoded in the DNA of all plants and animals as we have evolved over time. Life depends on the opportunity to experience natural daylight and natural darkness.
Light is a driving force in hormone production. For wildlife, hormones determine life sustaining behaviors such as mating (elk), migrating (birds), navigating (sea turtles & birds), and finding food (nocturnal & crepuscular predators). In elk and deer it can also influence antler growth. So, by preserving a naturally dark sky, we not only help protect ourselves, we also help protect these important resources that we all love. If we change this cycle by introducing day into the night by adding artificial light, we can only guess at some of the consequences that may occur, but we really don't know. Insects are a prime example. We all know that moths are attracted to porch lights, but think about it on a city wide scale, were the glow of the city is the light. Think about how many moths that brings to the city. These important members of our ecosystem, these pollinators are being affected in ways yet to be determined.
Last updated: March 22, 2021