The way the old saying has it, all that glisters is not gold. But in the case of the stars over St Helena, it seems the saying is wrong.
The astronomer who came to “audit” the island’s night sky in April says he’s giving it a gold rating for star-gazing. That puts it among the clearest skies in the world.
Steve Owens had been invited to the island to see whether it qualified as an International Dark Sky Place, after the accolade was given to Sark, one of the Channel Islands off the northern coast of France.
Vince Thompson describes the visit in his column in the May 4 issue of the re-launched St Helena Independent:
“In Glasgow, where Steve Owens lives, he says he can see about 200 hundred stars from his own garden. The quality of St Helena’s night sky means 6,000 stars are visible to the naked eye.
“When Steve Owens sailed away from St Helena on 30th April he was able to tell us that the darkness of the St Helena night sky qualifies for ‘Gold Status’. This means our sky is darker than the Isle of Sark’s which was accredited with ‘Silver Status’.”
The Dark Sky association’s rules require that public lighting meets tight standards to avoid light pollution, which can obscure the view of the galaxies.
Most of St Helena’s lighting was found to meet the rules, and measures to improve the rest are probably sufficient, according to Steve.
St Helena Government recently replaced 60 street lamps with low energy solar-powered lamps.
A statement said: “In addition to reducing the island’s reliance on fossil fuels, the new lights are of a modern design that do not emit light above the horizontal plane.
“This is a requirement for the Dark Skies accreditation, and by replacing 60 non-compliant luminaires with compliant ones we are a step closer to gaining Dark Skies accreditation.
“The guidelines for any additional lighting will be subject to the outcome of the audit being conducted by Steve Owens.”
The statement – issued before the astronomer’s visit – said positive feedback was expected on the work done to date to reduce light pollution.
The sky audit was organised by the St Helena Tourism Association. The main sponsors were Enterprise St Helena and The Consulate Hotel.
I’m glad I got the picture I needed; Saint Helena is a very special place indeed, and not just because of its dark skies.
Steve Owens, Scotland
In Search of Darkness
St Helena Independent