Island is fortunate to have one of the clearest skies in the country,
perfect for viewing some of the most amazing wonders of the universe.
These world-class nighttime views are not only suitable for stargazing,
however, but for encouraging flourishing wildlife populations. Despite
having some of the darkest skies on the East Coast, there is still more
that can be done to eliminate light pollution in our community. The
third annual Starry Nights event not only brought attention to the
issue of light pollution, but sought to educate the group which will be
left to deal with its effects: children.
Nights, created by Tracy Shisler and Belinda Willis with the idea of
attracting tourists in the winter, caters to children and revolves
around science and technology. The main events were run by two science
educators from the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel
Hill whose mission specifically for North Carolina is to “engage the
public for an improved understanding of science technology, and
health.” These educators also visited the Cape Hatteras Elementary
School this past week to share their knowledge with 3rd through 5th
event, which was open to the public, began at 2 p.m. in Hatteras
village. The Hatteras fire station housed a mobile planetarium,
something like an inflatable sphere, designed to demonstrate various
astronomical discoveries. Guided by Nick Eakes, science educator from
the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill, North
Carolina, kids got to see the typical nighttime views of Hatteras from
a model sky projected onto the walls of the planetarium. The dark and
secluded nature of the planetarium gave the feeling of being in another
the help of Hope Thomson, also an educator with the Science Center,
kids got more hands-on in the community center just around the corner.
On one table, there were worksheets available to teach kids about light
pollution through crossword puzzles, word searches, and coloring pages.
Another table housed brain flakes for creating model robots with
instruction from Thomson. Still another table was set up where kids
could decorate themselves with star headbands and temporary tattoos.
Upon completion of all of these activities, kids were given a
certificate deeming them Official Junior Astronomers.
delicious dinner of chili and vegetable soup was served around 5:30
p.m., and afterwards Eakes talked about the Orion StarBlast 4.5
Equatorial Reflector Telescope, which was purchased specifically for
the Starry Nights event. Unfortunately, the night skies were too cloudy
to see any of the universe’s wonders clearly, so he gave another
presentation from inside the mobile planetarium on black holes.
Eakes then explained which constellations could be seen at this time of year if the skies were clear such as Orion’s Belt, Taurus the Bull as well as the Pleiades, Night Owl, and Leo the Lion.
He also noted that Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn could be seen in a line in
the Southeast sky between 4 and 4:30 a.m. and gave helpful hints on how
to spot the difference between stars and planets.
The event commenced in the community center with kids experimenting with sphero robots and racing them through a makeshift maze.
not too many were able to brave the bad weather to attend the Starry
Nights event, the kids that did attend were excited to learn more about
astronomy and were inspired to protect our dark skies from light
pollution, also known as anthropogenic light, can be especially
detrimental on Hatteras Island as it not only prevents stargazing, but
also has negative effects on insects, frogs, plants, birds, sea
turtles, and even fish. Perhaps the most threatened by light pollution,
however, are sea turtles. These endangered and threatened species often
have trouble laying eggs in artificially lit areas. Hatching sea
turtles also get confused by artificial light because they
instinctively follow the brighter horizon to the ocean.
threat of light pollution on wildlife is what inspired the National
Parks Service’s initiative to make Cape Hatteras National Seashore the
first official dark skies park on the East Coast. In fact, they just
got funding to change all of the lights in their jurisdiction to be
dark skies certified.
the detrimental effects of artificial light, there are many steps that
can be taken to avoid damage to wildlife populations. Shining lights
only when needed, installing light fixtures which shine down instead of
up or at least emit less light, and installing light bulbs that emit
warm light or have been deemed energy efficient are all ways to abate
the problem of light pollution.
Dark Sky Week, which begins April 15, is the International Dark Sky
Association’s 30-year long tradition of advocating for a check on
anthropogenic light. The tradition began when a high school student
named Jennifer Barlow noticed the effects of artificial outdoor
lighting on wildlife and was inspired to “help preserve [the
universe’s] wonder.” Barlow’s passion for dark skies showcases the
incredible capability of kids to make a great change with just a little
the annual Starry Nights event is the first step to educating our
children in hopes of keeping our skies dark for future generations.