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Dark Skies: The Night’s Watch | Texas Parks & Wildlife

January 8, 2020


[music] – WOMAN: There’s something
magical about this place. It’s like nothing else. – MAN 1: We’re trying really
hard to protect the skies – keep the skies dark. – MAN 2: Without the dark skies
here, we- we’d be in a world of hurt. It’s beginning to
encroach on us. [soft wind blows, music] – MAN 1: The dark skies,
the remote locations, the high elevation, the dry
climate, and the southerly location all combine to
make this an ideal spot for an observatory. McDonald historically and
certainly ongoing today has had a very active public
outreach/education program. Astronomy is an excellent
vehicle for science education in the country. I don’t have the technical
inclination to be an astrophysicist, the math and
the physics stuff escapes me. The biggest part of my job
responsibilities are maintaining the dark skies, keeping the
skies dark for the observatory. [cars passing] “Dark sky” just means the lack
of any artificial light sources, anthropogenic light, man-made,
human-origin light sources. It’s a relatively
recent phenomenon, I mean “light pollution” wasn’t
a term anybody would have understood a hundred years ago. And astronomers are kind of like
the canaries in the coal mine, we’re the first ones to say,
“Hey, wait a second. The skies aren’t as dark
here as they used to be.” Tens of billions of dollars a
year worldwide is just wasted up into the night sky,
light that’s doing nobody any good whatsoever and is
blocking our view of the stars. ♪ ♪ One of my earliest memories
is watching the moon rise through a pair of binoculars
leaned up against a window. Ever since then I’ve been
fascinated by the night sky and looking through telescopes. It’s going to look like
a garage sale in here. The new upgraded parts are still
being attached to the telescope. There we go. Yeah, I mean it doesn’t even
look like a, I mean, I’ve had people come in here and
say, “So where’s the telescope?” You know? The amount of data collected
by the telescope is about to dramatically increase, gathering
light from galaxies that are 10, 12 billion light years
distant, very faint objects. We’re talking about maybe a
dozen or so photons per hour will be collected by the
telescope, so if the background sky gets brighter than the
faint objects that we’re trying to observe,
then we lose them, they’re lost for observation. So it’s critical that we
maintain the dark skies here at McDonald Observatory
and West Texas. It’s an amazing project. It’s really remarkable. Can’t wait to get on a star. – When you say pollution,
you don’t think of light as being in that category
of pollution. So it’s not something you
think you’re doing wrong. And when I talk about the
dark skies, I try to help people understand how easy
it is to preserve them. All it is is a choice you
make at Home Depot… to buy the light that points
down instead of points up. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ And doing it here, I think, is
important because people can see the dark sky and once people
kind of get an idea of what they could have in their backyard,
they’re more motivated to go and make those right decisions. – You can come into this
community at night and you’ll think,
“Where’d the power go?” Because we, as a group,
keep our night lights either directed downward
or don’t use them. But it’s encroaching from
other areas, particularly the oil patch in the Permian Basin. The only way to keep
McDonald Observatory working and safe and viable
is for dark skies. – BILL: We’ve seen the glow
along the horizon to our northeast steadily increase. We are not against outdoor
lighting at night, this is not an
anti-light campaign. We’re trying to promote
good lighting. First off there are
ordinances in place- outdoor lighting ordinances in
place in the seven counties that surround the McDonald
Observatory that ask, basically, that light be kept on
the ground and out of the sky. Within the seven counties the
Texas Railroad Commission has let right at 5,000 permits
in five years to drill for oil and gas, and that’s
just the drilling, that doesn’t take into account
all the facilities that go along with oil and gas
production, so there are literally thousands of
installations within the region that’s protected by law
to keep the skies dark. I don’t think a single oil and
gas operator even knew that there was a lighting
ordinance in place. – LARRY: Our ability to enforce
a dark skies-type ordinance thing sort of ends at
the county line for us. There’s just so many
things we can’t do. We’re not talking about
enforcement, we’re talking about education. You can force people to do
a lot of things, but the better thing
is to educate people how important this is. – I’ve been to probably a
dozen major conventions over the past year and a half. – LARRY: Bill’s a great guy. I mean, he can sell this. And he does sell this. And he goes around, and
that’s what we have to do is to educate. BILL: It’s not a technical
problem, it’s an educational problem. I don’t think there’s
anybody that’s insensitive or doesn’t care, it’s just not
a blip on their radar screen. A lot of them will say, “Well
I’ve never really thought about it before,” but once they
do it’s like, “Well sure, this is a problem that we
don’t need to have.” If we can just keep the light on
their work and out of the sky, problem solved. – MAN: Going to a state park
in a place away from the city, it’s a really majestic feeling. We’re really using state
parks as demonstration sites. We’ll just do a tour of the
constellations and people can learn a little bit, and then
we’ll start talking to people about light pollution and how
they themselves can help reduce some of the light pollution,
because we you do go and see the Milky Way,
it’s a really inspiring sight. – Today Enchanted Rock
joins an elite group of park preserves and other
conservation areas worldwide as an IDA – International
Dark Sky Park. We look forward to a long and
enduring relationship with Enchanted Rock and Texas Parks
and Wildlife that will help us keep the stars at
night truly “big and bright.” Please accept this award
with our compliments. Congratulations Doug. – DOUG: Thank you! – Yeah! You’ve done so much. You’ve done so much. [applause] Do people living in urban
areas notice that they’re missing anything? Some don’t. But if they’ve never really
seen it, then it’s hard to convey the meaning or the
value that it might have. There’s nothing quite light
getting out under a starry sky and actually seeing
it for yourself. ♪ ♪

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