Park service is shedding a little light on the dark skies issue |

Park service is shedding a little light on the dark skies issue

National Park Service researchers used satellite data and imagery to map night sky darkness across the country. Colorado Central Rockies have less light pollution that other parts of the country.
National Park Service |

More about Matt Dietrich

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In the United States, about 70 percent of us cannot see the Milky Way because it’s too light at night.

Matt Dieterich could imagine it, but he loves the night and doesn’t want to do so.

Dieterich is an astronomy and night sky education ranger in Mount Rainier National Park, and as the National Park Service celebrates its centennial, the U.S. Postal Service chose Dieterich’s photo of Mount Rainier for one of its commemorative park service centennial stamps.

“My boss said someone at the Postal Service was looking for night sky photography, so I sent some of mine in and they picked this one,” Dieterich said.

Darkness and sound maps

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The National Park Service’s night sky mapping helps star gazers find the dark. A park service sound mapping project helps people find silence.

Researchers have been measuring sound levels and night sky darkness levels for a decade, part of National Park Service policy, said Kurt Fristrup, the National Park Service’s Colorado branch chief for science and technology.

To create their recently released maps, researchers for night sky project used satellite imagery. The sound mapping researchers worked at 546 locations around the country.

“Half the park is after dark,” said Lisa Eckert, superintendent at Bryce Canyon, quoting a marketing slogan adopted by the National Park Service. “Coming out at night and looking at night skies is an amazing way to connect with the earth and with the planet and with nature.”

Sound follows light

The night sky darkness map largely reflects the National Park Service’s quiet map. Light and noise tend to follow human activity.

The lightest and loudest places tend to be along the East and West coasts.

The country’s quietest places are the West’s arid regions, the data found.

Here in the Central Rockies on a clear night, the Milky Way rolls across the sky like a shimmering silk ribbon, which means you can see something almost three-quarters of Americans cannot.

Midnight man

Dieterich’s workday ends around midnight, teaching Rainier visitors how to photograph the night sky with telescopes.

“The photographs grab people. It’s not something we see on a regular basis,” Dieterich said.

To get to Rainier for this job, he drove from his native Pennsylvania to Rainier, chasing the night skies in places such as Zion and Arches national parks. The Las Vegas light dome lights up the night sky like, well … a dome.

“You can see it about 150 to 200 miles from the city,” Dieterich said.

Night vision

You probably have night vision, but you will need to invest a little time in order to use it.

It reaches about 90 percent in 10 minutes and 100 percent in about a half hour or a little longer, Dieterich said. If someone points a flashlight, the process pretty much starts over.

If you must, use a red light. It doesn’t interfere with your night vision, Dieterich said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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