Far from city lights, Rangeley’s dark night sky
bursts with celestial wonders.
Preserving Rangeley’s Dark Sky
One of the simplest yet most awe-inspiring joys of being in Rangeley is the dark night sky. Far from the lights of a major population center, it explodes with celestial bodies. Many visitors are amazed by the brilliance of the Milky Way, shooting stars, and other cosmic wonders visible with the naked eye.
As the world’s population grows and fills the evening sky with more and more artificial light, dark skies are becoming harder to find. This makes Rangeley’s skies a unique and potentially valuable natural asset.
A group of Rangeley residents is working to preserve it with help from Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust (RLHT). The group hopes to make Rangeley New England’s first International Dark Sky Community, certified by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
RLHT’s director, David Miller, says three groups benefit from dark skies – people, wildlife, and businesses. For people, the benefit is simple; dark night skies are beautiful and they are becoming harder and harder to experience. Plus, humans have evolved important rhythms of wake and sleep that can be disrupted by light levels.
Similarly, bright lights can disrupt migrating birds and nocturnal animals, and unsettle the rhythms of many insect populations, which are critical since they are at the bottom of the food chain.
Businesses can benefit by preserving and marketing yet another natural asset to attract visitors to the Rangeley region. In decades past, most people could stargaze in their backyards. Now that’s not the case. As dark skies become rarer, they become a valuable way to distinguish and market a travel destination.
For example, a total solar eclipse will pass over Rangeley in 2024. Miller says the dark-sky initiative can draw attention to Rangeley as a great place to witness this event.
Miller’s group has already contacted the IDA and confirmed that Rangeley meets its requirements for low light emissions (measured by satellite images). The next steps are raising public awareness about the uniqueness and value of Rangeley’s skies, and approving local ordinances to protect them.
Miller says the ordinances are pretty manageable since Rangeley’s light emissions are already so low, and existing lights can be grandfathered. “Basically, you want to encourage future exterior lights to cast light down, rather than up into the night sky.” The group is working to obtain a grant that would help residents purchase lights that are dark-sky friendly and energy efficient, thereby saving them money. If all goes well, they hope to receive the IDA designation in 2021 or 2022.
David Miller’s Night-Sky Tips
While talking with David Miller, one immediately senses his genuine appreciation for the night sky. He notes how humans have evolved with biological rhythms that match the cycle of day and night. For thousands of years, humans used the night sky to mark time, navigate, and explore the globe. “When we lose our night skies, we lose part of being human,” he says.
Miller attributes this appreciation to having learned about the night sky and feeling at home under it. For aspiring stargazers, Miller suggests starting with constellations. “If you learn your constellations, and learn the basics, you’ll feel at home outside like you’ve never felt before.”
Starting with the basics can be as simple as finding the Big Dipper, then the North Star, then learning the mechanics of how stars travel across the night sky, then a few more constellations, and so on.
Miller recommends, “The Stars: A New Way to See Them” by H.A. Rey (yes, the co-author of Curious George), originally published in 1952, but he knows others have had good luck with various stargazing apps. “Whatever works,” he says. (We enjoy SkyView, an app that allows users to point their device at the sky and identify stars and constellations.)