In New Zealand, Humans (and Moths) Can Rediscover the Dark Sky

This story is original appeared in Atlas Obscura and about Climate Desk cooperation.

Mike Bacchus just remembers the guy “the Texan.” A few years ago, the Texan, almost in his seventies, was a visitor to New ZealandThe Lakestone Lodge, owned by Bacchus and his family. The man is already out of Texas in the Mackenzie region of New Zealand’s South Island for views, to see brightly colored violet lupins set on blue glacial lakes and snowy peaks rising ahead in the mountains of bone marrow. He was unaware of one of Mackenzie’s most glorious sights unveiled after sunset. In a region with some of the darkest night skies in the world, the wide arrival of the Milky Way dwarfs even the high peaks of nearby Aoraki, or Mount Cook.

One night, Bacchus invites his guest to come outside. The Texan’s first habit was to raise his hand. The stars were so clear that it was as if he could reach and catch them. Standing under many bowls of heaven, the man is bathed in starlight and emotion. He tells Bacchus that he has clearly seen the stars for the first time since he was 10 years old.

For Bacchus, the Texan surprise was a reminder of how precious-and unrecognizable-the clear night sky can be. “It really hit home. He just forgot about the Milky Way, ”Bacchus said.

Lakestone, an off-the-grid lodge on the edge of bright blue Lake Pukaki, is located within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. From the rest, the nearest traffic light is almost a 100 mile drive.

The reserve, designated in 2012 and covering more than 1,600 square miles, protects more than just the night sky. It provides a respite from the effects of light pollution for every living creature within its borders, from endangered insects to people who have forgotten the Milky Way. More than 80 percent of the world’s population living under dirty skies, according to a study by Scientific Advances. Even three hours away from the reserve Dunedin, where a Māori astronomer Victoria Campbell grew up, blindfolded the stars.

“It was great looking up and knowing what I didn’t see from my home in the city,” Campbell said of his first view of the night sky reserve. He was in love. “First family [family] decided to move to Mackenzie because of our love of nature, and the clear night sky. “

Home to just a few thousand people, the Mackenzie Basin has always been a prime spot for star gazing. That is, if it is not cloudy. As cunningly observed by astronomer John Hearnshaw, Aoraki Mackenzie “is known for dark skies, not for cloudless skies.” Hearnshaw was a former director of the Mount John Observatory in Tekapo, in the central reserve, and played a key role in ensuring the dark name of the sky. He has been advocating for the protection of the region’s night sky since the late 1970s. And he’s not done yet.

At his house in Christchurch, Hearnshaw opens a book he has written, The New Zealand Dark Sky Handbook, and flip on a map of the Mackenzie district. He traced his finger along the ridges of the southern Alps and the thick blue lines of the lakes as he described how he and other promoters hoped to expand the reserve in the neighboring Fairlie Basin, which has nearly doubled in size. on it. That’s good news for both stargoers and the region’s smallest residents.

The dry tussock in the Mackenzie area is home to mites and other insects that are not found anywhere else in the World. For example, Izatha psychra a moth found only in a patch of shrub inside the reserve, where it is torn to the brink of extinction. “This moth has a reasonable population. Well, I say reasonable population; I have never seen more than three moths in any year, ”said Robert Hoare, an entomologist at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research in New Zealand.

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