In New Zealand, people (and moths) are rediscovering the dark sky

This story is original featured on Atlas Obscura which is part of Climate office cooperation.

Mike Bacchus remembers the man only as “Texas”. A few years ago, the Texan, who is in his seventies, was a guest at New ZealandLakestone Lodge, which is owned by Bacchus and his family. The man had made his way from Texas To the Mackenzie region of the South Island of New Zealand to see the scenery, to see the vast expanses of violet lupine against blue glacial lakes and soaring snowy peaks behind golden hills. Little did he realize that one of Mackenzie’s most amazing scenes was revealed after sunset. In an area with some of the darkest night skies in the world, the vast sweep of the Milky Way dwarfs even the towering summit of nearby Aoraki, or Mount Cook.

One evening, Bacchus invited his guest out. Texas’ first instinct was to raise his hand. The stars were so bright that it seemed as if he could stretch them out and catch them. Standing under the great bowl of heaven, the man bathed in starlight and passion. He told Bacchus that he was seeing the stars clearly for the first time since he was 10 years old.

For Bacchus, the horror of Texas was a reminder of how precious – and elusive – the clear night sky is. “He really hit home. He simply forgot about the Milky Way,” says Bacchus.

Lakestone, an off-the-grid lodge on the edge of the gorgeous blue Lake Pukaki, is located within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. From the inn, the nearest traffic light is about a 100-mile drive away.

The preserve, which was designated in 2012 and covers more than 1,600 square miles, protects more than just the night sky. It provides a respite from the effects of light pollution for every living creature within its boundaries, from endangered insects to humans who have forgotten the Milky Way. more than 80% of the world’s population It lives under light-polluted skies, according to a study in science progress. Even after three hours of protected in DunedinWhere Maori astronomer Victoria Campbell grew up, the stars were in disguise.

“It was amazing to look up and realize what I didn’t see from my home in the city,” Campbell says of her first view of the reserve’s night sky. She was fascinated. “for us and Hanau [family] We decided to move to Mackenzie because of our love for the environment and the pristine night sky.”

Home to a few thousand people, the Mackenzie Basin has always been a prime spot for stargazing. That is, when it is not overcast. As astronomer John Hearshaw sarcastically notes, Aoraki Mackenzie “is known for its dark skies, not its clear skies.” Henshaw is the former director of the Mount John Observatory in Tekapo, at the center of the reserve, and played a key role in securing the dark sky designation. He’s been championing the protection of the area’s night sky since the late 1970s. And he’s not finished yet.

at home in Christchurch, Hearnshaw opens a book he authored, New Zealand Dark Sky guide, and flips over to the McKenzie area map. He traces his finger along the foothills of the Southern Alps and the thick blue streaks of lakes while describing how he and other advocates hope to expand the reserve into the nearby Fairley Basin, which would nearly double its size. This is good news for both stargazers and the youngest residents of the area.

The Mackenzie dry tusk is home to moths and other insects found nowhere else on earth. for example, yazatha bisikra It is a moth found only in one spot of the shrub within the reserve, where it teeters on the brink of extinction. “This moth has one reasonable population. Well, I say reasonable population; I haven’t seen more than three insects in any given year,” says Robert Hoare, an entomologist at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research in New Zealand.

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