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Arts and Entertainment

Joshua Tree Is Now Officially A 'Dark Sky' Park Thanks To Its Magnificent Stargazing

(Photo by Ric Berryman via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Joshua Tree National Park has long been lauded for its views of the starry night sky—now it's got the official certification to go along with it. As reported at the L.A. Times, Joshua Tree is the 10th spot in the U.S. National Park system to earn designation as an International Dark Sky Park. Other entries include Death Valley and the Grand Canyon. Worldwide, 83 parks have received Dark Sky recognition.

The certificate comes from the International Dark Sky Association, a nonprofit that works to preserve night skies from light pollution.

The designation carries weight, as the application process can be an arduous one. As stated on the IDA website, a Dark Sky park is "a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment." The area must contain "night sky brightness routinely equal to or darker than 20 magnitudes per square arc second." Applicants are required to gather and present evidence to a committee that includes past successful Dark Sky applicants. Once the committee gives it the thumbs up, the materials are passed on to the IDA board of directors, which has 10 calendar days to vote on the application. The Times says that activists and organizers have been working for nearly a decade to bring the designation to Joshua Tree.

In its own application, park handlers pointed at a special quality of Joshua Tree's—its ability to maintain dark skies in spite of its relative proximity to light-emitting cities. "Even though our park is within proximity to the greater Los Angeles area and the Coachella Valley, Joshua Tree National Park still offers an amazing view of the night sky," wrote David Smith, park superintendent at Joshua Tree National Park. "Interestingly enough, this proximity to Los Angeles and Coachella Valley are what make Joshua Tree National Park an increasingly visited destination to observe the incredible astronomical displays of our galaxy."

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Of course, Joshua Tree's closeness to metropolitan areas was also an obstacle in the application process. "[The] western edge of this 790,000-acre park is so polluted by the night light of Coachella Valley cities including Palm Springs and the Los Angeles metropolitan area that it is almost ineligible,” John Barentine, program manager for the Dark Sky association, told the Times. “But its eastern edge has levels of darkness found nowhere else in the state.”

According to The Desert Sun, there will be a dedication ceremony held on August 12 at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree at 5 p.m. Speakers will include Smith, Tom O’Key of the International Dark-Sky Association, and photographer Wally Pacholka (who takes seriously gorgeous shots of the majestic canopy above us). Guests will also be invited the watch the Perseid Meteor Shower following the dedication, which will be at its peak.

Furthermore, Joshua Tree will hold its third annual Night Sky Festival from November 10 to November 12. The event will bring out the milieu of astronomers, scientists, night-sky enthusiasts, artists, junior rangers to celebrate the park's dark skies. There will be solar viewings and an astronomy fair during the day, and astronomy programs and telescope viewings of the stars at night. The event is free but park entrance fees will apply on November 10 (these fees are waived on November 11 and 12 in observation of Veteran's Day).

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