As the world becomes increasingly illuminated, astrotourism is on the rise. People are looking for remote places under open skies and pristine forests to experience the beauty of the night sky. From Bolivia’s Kachi Lodge to the Canary Islands’ Teide National Park, tourists are flocking to these dark destinations to experience the stars in all their glory.
In Scandinavia, people are drawn to the northern lights and stars in sparkling bands. Iceland, northern Norway, and Sweden’s Jukkasjärvi’s ice hotel offer visitors a chance to see the sky’s own fireworks. In Lapland, Abisko National Park offers a growing stream of darkness and northern-lights tourists. Visitors are guided through the night of the national park with only a dim red light, so as not to disturb their night vision.
In Denmark, Møn Island is known for its spectacular white cliffs and its darkness. On a clear night, up to five thousand stars can be counted over the island’s cliffs, making it one of the most beautiful places in Europe for stargazing. In 2017, Møn and its neighboring island of Nyord were made into a reserve—Scandinavia’s first dark park—devoted to preserving the unspoiled night. The Danish Environmental Protection Agency is at the forefront of protecting the night sky, and Vordingborg Municipality, under whose jurisdiction the two islands fall, is also designated a Dark Sky Community.
France has also taken steps to protect its night sky, passing legislation in 2019 that regulates how much light can be emitted into the atmosphere. Austria’s capital Vienna has started turning out the lights at 11:00 p.m., and in Groningen in the Netherlands industry and agriculture lights are regulated by law.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) certifies dark parks, special reserves, and municipalities each year. Only places with extraordinary night skies are even eligible, and there are currently about forty dark parks and about half as many dark communities worldwide. Flagstaff, Arizona was the first city to receive Dark Sky City status in 2001, and it has long been a pioneer in this area. Flagstaff has created a model limiting lighting on the basis of three criteria: all lights face downward and are shielded by screens on top, with no light above the horizontal plane allowed; the number of lights in any given area is limited; and light from the lamps must be warm, that is to say, the glow is yellow and red.
The world’s darkness parks give hope that parts of the night sky can be preserved in today’s world of technology and illumination—if only we have the will. From Bolivia to Denmark, from Arizona to France, people are coming together to protect our night skies and keep them free from light pollution. If we don’t act now, we risk losing the night within a generation.