Texas has many tourist attractions, but one of the most valuable is right above our heads every night. As skies grow more light polluted in cities, many people yearn for a night under the stars away from the lights. Many parents want to show their children the Milky Way and the constellations that they remember from their youth. Unnecessary nighttime light puts Texas at risk of losing its dark sky and natural nighttime environment; however, places designated as dark sky areas – where the stars truly are big and bright – are drawing increasing numbers of visitors.
Forbes Magazine and USA Today have called attention to astro tourism as the “next big thing” in tourism and Texas is well positioned for accommodating those interested in the night sky. From planetariums and observatories to star parties and dark sky places and events, there are numerous opportunities to enjoy the night sky while also learning about the importance of preserving the state’s dark skies.
Various parks, historic sites, conservation organizations, International Dark Sky Communities such as Dripping Springs, and the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve are leading the way in stargazing and preserving the night sky. Today, there are 21 designated International Dark Sky Places in Texas.
Interest in dark sky preservation has seen a huge swell of support with the aid of media attention and new dark sky certified areas. Because of excessive lighting 80% of the people in the United States can no longer see our own galaxy of stars, the Milky Way. The mission of the International Dark Sky Association is to promote the use of better lighting to help restore our view of the nighttime sky, while improving the safety and well-being of both people and wildlife.
The International Dark Sky Association defines light pollution as “the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light.” Light pollution affects wildlife, the environment, the health of all Texans, and our ability to find awe in the natural night. Cindy Luingo Cassidy, DarkSky Texas President, states, “To protect land or water, you have to protect the living things that sustain both. In order to protect those living things, you must protect them from man-made light. All living things need darkness.”
As the official state chapter of the International Dark Sky Association, DarkSky Texas assists interested parties in becoming a designated dark sky place. Keep Texas Beautiful, Scenic Texas, Texan By Nature and Hill Country Alliance now have programs addressing the issue of light pollution.
Every property that embraces dark sky practices makes a difference. DarkSky Texas offers the inexpensive and popular “BE A STAR” Award that rewards landowners who contribute to conservation efforts by protecting the night sky. The program encourages landowners to evaluate their outdoor lighting and use lighting that eliminates glare, light trespass, and other forms of light pollution while at the same time helping landowners see better on their property. (For more info visit DarkSkyTexas.org.)
Audubon Texas has introduced a successful “Lights Out, Texas” campaign that has been embraced by numerous others including former First Lady Laura Bush’s conservation organization Texan By Nature. Each year during fall and spring migrations, nearly two billion birds travel through Texas navigating with the night sky. However, as they pass over metropolitan areas, they can become disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow which often causes the birds to collide with buildings or windows.
Originally launched in 2017 by Houston Audubon, the main objective of Lights Out, Texas is to reduce migratory bird mortality by increasing statewide participation of cities and building owners to turn off non-essential lights. It’s especially important to turn off non-essential lights from 11 pm to 6 am during the fall and spring migration periods.
Now get outside on a dark night (no moon is the best) and check out the most amazing free show on the planet. And do your best to help keep those Texas stars at night big and bright!