3 mins read 07 Nov 2019

Australia’s Second Dark Sky Region Declared

South Australian region declared as Australia’s second dark sky location – promoting astrotourism, education and science capabilities for the region.

The Milky Way galaxy, with the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds over the Pinnacles in WA. Credit: Dylan O’Donnell.

The Mid-Murray region in South Australia has been awarded the prestigious Dark Sky Reserve status allowing visitors to experience the celestial sky with close to pristine darkness, away from the light pollution produced by populated towns and cities. It is the second region in Australia to be granted this status, of which only a small number of locations around the world have been accredited with.

Located within a 90-minute drive from Adelaide, the Mid-Murray Reserve region covers an area of approximately 2,300 square kilometres (both private and public land) which includes:

  • Natural locations such as Swan Reach, Marne Valley, Ridley and Brookfield conservation parks, Yookamurra wildlife sanctuary, and Moorunde wildlife reserve
  • The townships off Swan Reach, Walker Flat, Wongulla, Nildottie, Punyelroo, Black Hill, Sedan, and Cambrai

The International Dark-Sky Association awarded the reserve its status on Thursday, 7 November 2019.

Australia’s Dark Sky Regions

Milky Way galaxy over Siding Springs observatory at the Warrumbungle National Park. Credit: Ángel López-Sánchez / SSO.

Australia also has a second dark sky region, the Warrumbungle National Park (near Coonabarabran in central-western NSW) which was the first park in Australia (and the southern hemisphere) to be dedicated as a dark sky region in 2016. Inside the Warrumbungle National Park is the Siding Spring Observatory – where Australia’s largest optical telescopes continually contribute to local and international projects, advancing knowledge in space science.

With growing populations in cities, the ability to see objects in the night sky has all but dwindled down for urban sky viewers due to the creeping expansion of light pollution. A number of councils have started to consider alternatives to standard city lighting – which radiates wasted light into space, instead of directing downwards.

Scientists have discussed a number of benefits to ensuring dark sky regions and communities continue to thrive, such as:

  • Reducing the impacts of artificial lighting on wildlife and natural ecosystems
  • Reducing energy wastage
  • Preserving the heritage of the night sky, including indigenous heritage
  • Enhancing astronomical science, research, education, and tourism

Application for Dark Sky Status

The Mid-Murray Landcare Group, with the support of the Astronomical Society of South Australia has been working towards achieving this goal for a number of years now. A grassroots method was applied, engaging local communities to measure the darkness over the region over the course of several months to determine the ‘dark core’ of the reserve. The Mid-Murray council also endorsed the project, including adopting the required Lighting Management Plan complying with both Australian lighting standards and the requirements for low-level lighting as set out by the International Dark Skies Association.

In addition to this local businesses, schools, sports clubs, wildlife researchers, farmers and tourism operators all backed the plan, which gained written support from the Chief Scientist of South Australia, both the Premier and Leader of Opposition, Nobel Prize winner Prof. Brian Schmidt and Australia’s first Astronomer-at-large Fred Watson.

The 470-page application was made in 2017, with the results being finalised this week.

Dark Sky Parks Globally

By November of 2019, there are approximately 120 locations around the world that have been designated a dark sky region, made up of dark sky parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and urban night sky places.

The Warrumbungle National Park remains the only dark sky park in the southern hemisphere, whilst the Mid-Murray reserve now joins New Zealand’s Aoraki Mackenzie region as the second dark sky region in the southern hemisphere.