Discovering the Dark Side
The PEAK Hong Kong|December 2016

Following a growth in the number of protected 'dark sky places' and stargazing travel destinations, all of which offer visitors increasingly luxurious ways to gaze in awe at the night sky, there has never been a more exciting time for astrotourism.

Babak Tafreshi

There is the silence of a desert night. A gentle breeze shifts the tiny grains of sands under your feet, each as insignificant as the cosmic standpoint of our tiny world. There is a patchy glow of light over the east, but it is not an approaching cloud lit up by a faraway city. It is the billions of stars in our home galaxy rising above the horizon, as our spot on the Earth turns away from the Sun to face the galactic centre. Today, with two thirds of humanity living under light-polluted skies and largely unaware – or unfeeling – of this amazing sight, this might sound like a scene out of a science fiction movie. But it is still possible to experience, and it’s getting ever easier, thanks to growing number of preserved 'dark sky places', and a growing interest in protecting dark skies. It is also creating a new type of ecotourism: astrotourism.

Astrotourism is emerging in many areas with existing ecotourism infrastructure and with naturally dark skies, far from metropolitan areas and major light pollution sources. Typically, high altitude and dry conditions prevail. My personal passion for the night sky began under the pristine night sky of Iran’s Alborz Mountains, where I grew up. The country’s high deserts in Kerman and Yazd now welcome astrotourists.

Increasingly, places still blessed with dark skies are taking action to preserve them – both by the authorities and locals who consider their skies a valuable source for tourism and a heritage to preserve. The street lights in many of these areas are changed to full cutoff sodium lights, rather than the whiteblue LEDs, where the bulb is shielded downward and therefore not shooting light into the sky. These sky-friendly lights have been promoted by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) and are now available by lighting industry.

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