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Let there be (Less) Light - Great Things to do under Dark Skies

-Image by Kanenori per Pixabay
I know what you're thinking. Though I've always found full moons and starry nights very romantic, there isn't much evidence that Dark Skies influence human mating behaviour. One African study did find a link between power outages and baby booms, but this was thought to be due to that fact that people couldn't engage in their usual activities, rather than because the lights were out. That's not to say you shouldn't try it. Here are some other things which you can do. 


According to Lonely Planet, the biggest new tourism trend in 2019 was Astrotourism. Many people just love the stillness and to enjoy the full expanse of sky, but Astrotourism is also popular among Astrophotographers and of course amateur and professional Astronomers. Just sleeping under the stars is wonderfully relaxing.

The DarkSky International Organisation which began in the US in 1988, now has branches and internationally recognised reserves in 22 countries and on six continents. The USA has no less than 134. Europe has 46 which doesn’t seem many, considering the number of countries. Perhaps the Scandinavians get enough Dark Nights, with their six months of Midnight Sun and six months of Darkness.

The UK which had Europe's first Dark Sky Reserve at Exmoor National Park, now has 18. Exmoor offers a range of activities and services including a discovery trail, a stargazing website with free starguides and tips, astrophotography courses,  telescope hire and Dark Sky friendly businesses. Both Exmoor National Park in the UK and Breton Beacons in Wales hold Annual Dark Sky Festivals.

Other Countries mentioned on the International Dark Sky website include Japan, The Middle East, Taiwan, South Africa and Namibia, Chile and Brazil, Mexico, Canada  and South Korea. New Zealand where I first encountered a Dark Sky Reserve, now has five and plans to become the world's first Dark Sky Nation. Australia has four, though I am not sure how up to date these figures are since Canada is shown as having six, when the Let’s Talk Science Website mentions 13. Looking at the Australasian Dark Sky Associations for individual states such as Victoria, I can see that there are already many more Dark Sky Reserves and Communities than the National listings show. Read more about some of the World's other great Dark Sky Reserves here.

There are other classifications too. International Dark Sky Reserves are usually in more populated areas but maintain a dark core and have adopted good lighting practices around the periphery. Sanctuaries are more likely to be in remote areas and have the most protected skies of all. International Dark Sky Parks are more to do with nature conservation. They generally have good lighting practices and offer programs for visitors. International Dark Sky Communities are towns and cities which have adopted outdoor lighting policies and educate the public about the importance of Dark Skies. Find some near you here.

Star Spotting

Australia is one of the best places in the world to go star spotting. There are many star guides available on the web to help you to understand what you are looking at and what you are likely to see. It changes all year- every night in fact, and is different for each region. Click here for a typical example, but look out for those in your area too. You might even be treated to a meteor shower as we once were, when we had to sleep out on a race course overnight. They were the Perseids which can usually be seen in August. The second biggest meteor shower -the Geminids should be happening in the Northern Hemisphere right now until the 24th of December. For where and how to see them, click on Although these will have passed their peak by now, the Quadrantids will be hot on their heels, beginning on the 28th of December and running until January 12. Unfortunately, according to Principal Astronomer at the Ulverstone Planetarium in Tasmania, Dr Martin George, we are unlikely to see these in the Southern Hemisphere and will have to wait until May 5 next year when the Eta Aquarids peak. For information on forthcoming meteor showers throughout the year, click here. 

Western Australia which is an ideal place to observe the stars because it almost always has clear night skies, few mountains and warmer weather, has taken this to a new level. Just like wine trails, it is producing a series of star trails which offer viewing platforms, low light pollution and supportive communities. Some places include star guides and even offer Aboriginal interpretation of the Night Sky.  For the Southern Cross and other highlights of the Southern Skies click here

However, you don’t necessarily have to go far from home. There are Dark Sky Reserves even in cities like Melbourne. Here’s a list of some of the most popular destinations in the USA. Lonely Planet also has several books to help you plan. 

A Planetarium is a great place to learn about the constellations and other phenomena before you go or if the weather rains on your parade. A number of new ones have opened up in recent years. See the the most up to date list here. The Go Astronomy Site has a Calendar of heavenly events happening in 2024. Many Observatories also have educational programs. Star parties sound great.

Aurora Chasing

-Image Michael Greenhill

It's already been a good year for Auroras in Tasmania, but according to National Geographic, 2024 promises to be be even better in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere because the sun is reaching the peak of its 11 year cycle. 

Despite its often less than co -operative weather Tasmania is one of the best places in the world to see the Southern Aurora, though it can also be seen along parts of the South Coast of the mainland and in Chile, New Zealand, Antarctica, and Argentina. According to Dr. Martin George, the best time to see them is around the the equinoxes, that is around March - April and September - October in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology  issues alerts when Auroras are likely. Watch their video here.

If you have never seen one or don’t know what it is, watch this one as well. Do you know why Auroras are green at the North Pole and Reds and Pinks at the South Pole? Find out more at National Geographic or  read more here. Don’t forget to look out for the STEVEs  either [See previous post]. 

Glow -in - the - Dark Algae

Bioluminescent Plankton  - Image Phil Hart 

Bioluminescent Algae make a spectacular sight in the dark. It is often found on the margins of calmer waters such as lakes, estuaries and slow moving rivers. You may have to move the water slightly to see the effect. I saw it for the first time while children were splashing in gumboots at the water's edge.  


Star Trail over Lake Eppalock - Phil Hart
Phil Hart whose photos I've been using in this section, has a book out "Shooting Stars" which explains how to take great night time photos using only a DSLR camera  and a tripod. He also has a free monthly newsletter about what to look out for -eclipses, comets, etc and occasionally runs astrophotography workshops. You can also check out his Night Sky Photography Facebook Page.
Comet Lovejoy 2014 - Phil Hart


This site has interesting snippets such as notice of a total solar eclipse on the 8th of April Next Year. This will be visible throughout much of the USA but not in Australia. Do you know that Australia might not have been ‘discovered’ by Europeans had Captain James Cook not popped down to the Southern Hemisphere in 1769 to get a better view of the Transit of Venus? It last happened in 2012, so don't expect to see another one until 2133.

See NASA’s pages on Eclipses if you would like to know more about them. 

Data Gathering

If you would like play an even more active role, why not become a citizen scientist with The GLOBE at Night and record measurements in your area. This requires a simple LUX meter to measure the amount of scattered light. 

The Loss of the Night Project  is an international citizen science project to help scientists understand the effects of light pollution over time. You don't need special equipment for this. Get the app for Android or iPhone here and detailed instructions for Android here or for iPhone here. It's specifically designed for use in urban areas, though you should choose a park or a balcony where there isn't too much extraneous light to start with. 

For Children

There's a long list of online and other resources on the Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories website including Sky Charts and Stellarium, a free open source sky map for your computer, which shows the stars as you might see them with the naked eye. It also has a resident astronomer who can answer your questions.

The Globe at Night’s Dark Sky Rangers Program has lots of activities and resources

This article explains Light Pollution in very simple terms 


"When we look out into space we are looking into our own origins because we are truly children of the stars. And written into every atom and every molecule of our bodies is the entire Universe from the Big Bang to the present day."

-Brian Cox

Many thanks to my friend, Dr Martin George (Principal Astronomer at the Ulverstone Planetarium), for valuable insights on this topic.

Next: Quiet Places