Oregon Is Now Home to the World’s Largest Dark Sky Sanctuary

The Oregon Outback International Dark Sky Sanctuary covers 2.5 million acres in the southeastern part of the state

Milky Way above two people
Officials have been working toward the designation for four years. Travel Southern Oregon

Calling all stargazers: Oregon is now home to the largest Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world.

Earlier this month, DarkSky International certified a remote, 2.5 million-acre area in the southeastern part of the state. From this rugged swath of high desert landscape dotted with sagebrush, visitors who stay up late can see large numbers of stars, planets and other celestial bodies.

“It’s surprising sometimes to see that many stars all at once,” says Bob Hackett, executive director of Travel Southern Oregon, to the Guardian’s Dani Anguiano. “It catches you, and it makes you pause because you feel like you can touch it … That vastness of the whole cosmos up there—it almost makes you get closer to the people you’re with on the ground.”

DarkSky International is a nonprofit that certifies areas that have developed comprehensive protections against light pollution. To date, the group has certified more than 200 Dark Sky Places in 22 countries.

The newly certified area is called the Oregon Outback International Dark Sky Sanctuary, and officials spent four years working to earn the designation. They’ve implemented a lighting management plan that will help preserve the region’s unobstructed night sky views, which includes measures such as installing motion detectors and reducing the number of lights that point upward.

Additionally, every light source within the sanctuary’s boundaries will need to comply with DarkSky International’s standards within the next decade, reports KLCC’s Nathan Wilk.

Shooting star in dark night sky
In Dark Sky Sanctuaries, travelers can marvel at the cosmos without interference from light pollution. Travel Southern Oregon

These efforts will not only benefit stargazers and astronomers but also help protect the many animals that call the region home, such as sage grouse, bighorn sheep, migratory birds and white-tailed jackrabbits.

Light pollution can disrupt breedingmigration and other wildlife behaviors. Moths, for example, can congregate around street lights to the point of exhaustion, while sea turtle hatchlings can die after becoming disoriented by artificial lighting near the shore.

Humans, too, suffer because of light pollution, which is getting worse year after year. In addition to obscuring views of the night sky, it is also a health hazard. Studies have linked light pollution to an array of problems, from sleep disorders and depression to obesity and diabetes.

The new Oregon sanctuary is now the biggest in the world. But local officials want to make it even bigger: They hope someday to expand the sanctuary into neighboring Harney and Malheur counties, covering a total of 11 million acres, per KLCC. If they achieve this goal, they’ll have protected roughly one-fifth of the entire state, reports AFAR’s Bailey Berg.

“As the population of Oregon and the trend of light pollution continue to rise, the unparalleled scale and quality of the Outback’s dark skies will long serve as a starry refuge to people and wildlife alike,” says Dawn Nilson, an environmental consultant who helped get the area certified, in a statement.

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