Astronomer gives St Helena a gold star

sky with text 640The skies above St Helena have been judged to be dark enough for the island to become one of the world’s most attractive star-gazing destinations.

It could win official recognition as a “dark sky island” within 12 months – though more realistically two years – once work has been done to improve artificial lighting.

A report from astronomer Steve Owens says the island has “very dark skies indeed”.

Click the pic to see a larger image of St Helena's entire night sky, photographed by Steve Owens

Click the pic to see a larger image of St Helena’s entire night sky, photographed by Steve Owens

And he said its connections with famous astronomers could give it an edge over other destinations with less cloud, such as Hawaii, Tenerife and the deserts of Chile and Namibia.

Edmund Halley spent a year on the island making a map of the entire night sky, and remains of his observatory at Halley’s Mount can still be seen.

St Helena’s position near the Equator, and height above sea level, means that nearly every star in both the northern and southern hemispheres can be seen at some point in the year.

Only the middle of oceans and deserts would offer a better view of the stars, Steve Owens told St Helena Online.

The results of his 2012 audit of the island’s night skies emerged just as the Isle of Man announced a 5% increase in tourism income, thanks to star-gazing visitors.

St Helena offers better star-gazing than Sark, the world's first 'dark sky island'. Picture: Peter Capper

St Helena offers better star-gazing than Sark, the world’s first ‘dark sky island’. Picture: Peter Capper

Despite cloudy conditions on his visit in May 2012, Steve found that St Helena’s skies rated  as class two or three on the Bortle scale – that standard measurement.

That gives it a higher rating than Sark, in the Channel Islands, which was the first island in the world to be accredited by the International Dark Sky Association.

St Helena Tourism Association is hoping St Helena can achieve the same recognition – with even higher status. Chairman Vince Thompson organised the trip, with sponsorship from Enterprise St Helena and The Consulate Hotel.

Steve took readings from sites around the island, and left equipment to take further recordings at Broad Bottom – site of the proposed Shelco eco-resort – and the Millennium Forest.

A photograph of the entire sky above the Millennium Forest showed dust bands in the Milky Way, even low on the horizon, and some Zodiacal light – reflections of the sun’s light from dust in the solar system.

Both are rare signs of an exceptionally clear sky.

Steve’s report concludes: “St Helena has very dark skies indeed, ranking as Bortle class two or three in most places outside the major settlements.

“Work is underway to refit much of the island’s street lights, and given that the island is one of the most remote in the world there is no other source of artificial light visible than that generated on the island.

“These figures will only improve given the adoption island-wide of a rigourous lighting management plan, and the award of International Dark Sky Community.”

Vince Thompson said: “The next steps in the process are down to us. Some of the required work is well underway.

“We need to show we have systems in place and work underway or planned to improve night sky conditions.

“The Land Development Control Plan has achieved this, as has work done to reduce the zero upward lighting of certain types of public street lighting.

“Finally, a lighting management plan needs to be formally adopted; this may involve the  assistance of a qualified lighting engineer and therefore some funding from somewhere.”

Steve Owens told St Helena Online that the island had the potential to become one of the darkest places in the world within reach of tourists.

SEE ALSO: There’s gold in them stars

LINK: International Dark Sky Organisation

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