Published in the 2022 Southern Utah Vacation Guide
By Rich Csenge, President, Stellar Vista Observatory
One measure of rural Utah’s outstanding quality of life is its clear night sky, glistening with thousands of stars and the Milky Way. In much of Southern Utah, starry nights punctuated by the moon and planets are as visible today as when Pioneers began settling the area. It’s an enviable source of continuing natural wonder that has largely vanished across more populous regions of our country. As Utah cities and towns grow larger, wise outdoor lighting choices point the way to preserving this inspiring heritage. The natural darkness of rural southern Utah sets the stage for an enriching experience of humanity’s place in the Cosmos.
Why are southern Utah night skies so clear? Several factors include the dry climate, high elevation, even higher mountains and plateaus buffering the light pollution spreading out from large cities along the I-15 corridor and Wasatch Front, and a growing awareness of the value that preserving this matchless legacy resource brings to the region.
For these reasons in 2019 local residents founded the 501C-3 nonprofit Stellar Vista Observatory (SVO) dedicated to the creation of an educational astronomical observatory for public enjoyment of southern Utah’s world class starry nights. The organization enjoys strong support for its efforts to draw attention to and preserve the visibility of Southwest Utah’s starry skies for present and future generations.
When operational, Stellar Vista Observatory will be the largest public facility of its kind within a 300 mile radius, attracting students, residents and visitors to enjoy stunning views of the planets, stars, clusters, nebulae and distant galaxies. The design includes large pier-mounted telescopes plus a range of portable scopes, a classroom/theater, an outdoor amphitheater for guided constellation viewing and star parties, gift shop and more.
In addition to hosting star parties, SVO produces authoritative weekly sky reports published in regional newspapers around southern Utah. SVO also brings attention to, and works to preserve Kanab’s star filled night skies with its “Discover the Night Sky” telescope and binocular lending program, created through a grant from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. Easy-to-use portable telescopes and tripod mounted binoculars are loaned to families and individuals in Kane County. “To witness the infinity, eternity and immortality of the physical universe is incredibly inspiring”, says Rich Csenge, coordinator for the project and founder of the nonprofit. Maybe you’ll want to request one of our astronomy kits for your family to enjoy? They’re fun, they’re inspiring, and they’re free! To reserve your kit, visit: https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/discover-the-night-sky/
Kanab is one of just four rural communities in the state of Utah that have enacted night sky friendly outdoor lighting ordinances to protect the outstanding clarity of Southern Utah’s starry nights. With its full range of visitor services including vacation rentals, B&B’s, hotels and restaurants, and its close proximity to federally managed parks, forests, monuments and public lands, Kanab offers outstanding prospects as a home base for astro-tourists. If you’ve had a memorable experience stargazing in Kanab, please take a moment to write a note to Kanab City Mayor Johnson to let him know how much you enjoyed it!
According to Utah Governor Spencer Cox, “Dark skies are integral to the well-being of many animal and plant species, and they have positive health impacts on humans…..and the implementation of dark sky practices in land use, construction, utilities, and other aspects of community life actively promotes local governance, reduces energy-costs, and preserves Utah’s Western lifestyle.”
Utah leads the world in the number of state and national parks which have received certification from the International Dark Sky Association as “Dark Sky Parks”. Twenty-three state and five national parks in Utah now hold this distinction! Visit https://www.darksky.org/ to learn more.
A community’s outdoor lighting choices can have a big impact on the visibility of the night sky in the parks. Shielding of outdoor lights eliminates wasted light shining upward into the sky. Instead, light is focused on the ground where we live, work and play. When light pollution and glare are reduced, public safety increases, saving energy and lowering electric bills. Fully shielded fixture designs are readily available at competitive prices, providing enhanced visibility while preserving starry skies above. For a list of accredited fixtures, visit: https://www.darksky.org/our-work/lighting/lighting-for-industry/fsa/fsa-products/
To learn more about SVO’s plans to build an educational astronomical observatory in the Kanab City area for public enjoyment of the night sky, visit: www.stellarvistaobservatory.org.