The Aurora Borealis in Wood Buffalo National Park, just named the world's largest dark sky reserve.

Alberta park named largest “dark sky” preserve

A western Canadian national park, bigger than the size of Switzerland, has been declared a “dark sky” preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Wood Buffalo National Park extends from the northern boundary of the province of Alberta into the Northwest Territories below Great Slave Lake.

At 4.5 million hectares it is also bigger than the world’s 33 other dark sky preserves combined.  The next biggest dark sky preserve was also in Canada and also in Alberta.  The 1.1 million hectare Jasper National Park is located in the Rocky Mountains just over 400 km northwest of Calgary.

Canada has the world’s most stringent dark-sky-reserve rules, where no artificial lights can be visible and the reserve must educate against light pollution. The park currently has only one structure with light on it, a heavy equipment shack on Highway 5, and any future lighting will be tightly controlled.

Because of the absence of artificial light,  astronomers say the sky is phenomenally clear.

“You go anywhere within the park and you’re probably, at best, at least 50 km away from any light source,” said Mike Couvrette, chairperson of the Thebacha and Wood Buffalo Astronomical Society. “There’s absolutely no light pollution, there’s just thousands of stars to be seen.”

The society was formed in 2011 to support the park’s bid to become a dark sky reserve.

According to Parks Canada, the designation will help preserve nighttime ecology for the park’s large populations of bats, night hawks and owls, as well as providing opportunities for visitors to experience the Northern lights.

The park will celebrate with a Dark Sky Festival Aug. 23-25 featuring camping, astronomical presentations, a planetarium experience, and night sky viewing opportunities.

Categories: Environment & Animal Life

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