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IDA Names First Dark Sky Sanctuary
Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary, Chile - Photo Courtesy of Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy

The IDA, a nonprofit organization fighting to preserve the night sky, has designated Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary in Chile as the first such sanctuary.

A sanctuary invites deep contemplation in a safe and stable environment. Few places in the world provide a better opportunity to enjoy and contemplate the starry heavens than the Andean mountains of northern Chile. But even in this astronomy mecca, lights can intrude, and thoughtful protection is needed as the nearby towns and cities grow in size.

At the International Astronomical Union meeting this month, the International Dark-Sky Association announced that the site of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) Observatory in the Elqui Valley of northern Chile has been recognized and designated as the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world. The site will be known as the "Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary" after the famed Chilean poet.

"The Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary will serve as an example of how collaboration among governmental and non-governmental stakeholders can preserve one of the most special places on the planet," IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend said.

"Dark Sky Sanctuaries are the rarest and most fragile dark places left on the planet," IDA Dark Sky Places Program Manager John Barentine explained. "The Sanctuaries designation fills a need for the recognition and protection of examples of how the world appeared before the introduction of electric lighting."

In certain cases, the public may be excluded from sanctuary sites in order to further important conservation priorities.

This is the first instance in which a professional observatory has received IDA recognition for its dark-skies stewardship, and provides a model for many other ground-based astronomical research facilities. AURA has worked closely with the Chilean government, which has passed a number of outdoor lighting regulations designed to save energy and preserve the night skies in Northern Chile.

Former AURA Observatory Director Dr. Malcolm Smith pointed out the benefits the facility brings to Chile. "The Observatory night skies are a resource that belongs to all Chileans as an important part of their heritage," Smith said.

Ambassador Gabriel Rodriguez of the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs added, "The Chilean government has prioritized the protection of the dark skies of northern Chile through both regulation and education, but more importantly through its recognition that Chile's night skies are a natural resource to be preserved and passed on from generation to generation."

AURA Observatory in Chile has committed to a long-term program preserving dark skies through a management plan coupled with extensive education and public outreach efforts. The Chilean institution responsible for the protection of the quality of the night skies, the Oficina de Proteccion de Calidad de los Cielos (OPCC), is also involved.

The Dark Sky Sanctuary designation is only a beginning for the region. "If our collective efforts around the Elqui Valley are successful, we will have further protections for the incredible resource of Chile's dark skies," said Dr. R. Chris Smith, director of the AURA Observatories in Chile. "Not only will this area attract further world-class professional observatories, it is becoming a world destination for eco-tourism with its incredible array of tourist-oriented observatories and night sky viewing sites."

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September 21, 2019, 11:51 pm PDT

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