Great Barrier Island Best Spot for Stargazing
“It was as if a great celestial Bake Off was in action. Handfuls of sugar spilt across the sky and the faint floury stain of the Milky Way scattered overhead. With my neck craned all the way back, I felt dizzy trying to take in the immensity of it all,” Emma Thomson writes for The Telegraph. “‘Here, the stars are so bright you can read the newspaper at night,’ says Hilde Hoven, one of the residents on Great Barrier Island.
“In August of this year, Great Barrier – a 30-minute flight north-east of Auckland – was the first island in the world to be designated a Dark Sky Sanctuary. It’s the third site in the world after the Cosmic Campground in the US state of New Mexico and the Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary, the site of Chile’s government observatory,” Thomson continues.
“This island of steep forested hills, wetlands and sweeping white-sand bays is completely off grid. All the residents are responsible for supplying their own power through solar, wind or gas. There are no billboards or street lights. And the complete lack of light pollution makes for a very sparkly stratosphere.
“Typically, tourists come here to fish, hike and swap fast-paced city life for something slower. But come winter, visitor numbers drop from 12,000 to 2500 and a solution was vital to support the island’s 900 residents. It seems the starry solution was staring them right in the face and local residents Gendie and Richard Somerville-Ryan decided to apply for Dark Sky status.
“Working with Auckland astronomer Nalayini Davies, they took readings all over the island one clear crisp night and sent the results off to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) for review. ‘We thought we’d be a Reserve, but when the results came back they said, “You’re not a Reserve” and we were really disappointed! They said, “Your readings are technically darker than instruments should be able to measure – you have a very dark sky indeed!”’ Gendie exclaimed.
“Sanctuary rules are stricter than those of a Reserve because they have to be situated in a very remote location, promote long-term conservation and above all prove a night-sky brightness routinely equal to or darker than 21.5 mpsa (magnitudes per square arc second). Great Barrier Island has an mpsa of 21.97.”
Original article by Emma Thomson, The Telegraph, October 13, 2017.
Photo by Mark Russell.