It begins with a faint glimmer, just a hint of brightness on the northern horizon, then builds, rising like an aria. Soon, the night sky is glowing green and red, dancing with light, shimmering like diamonds. The aurora is out. The northern lights are gleaming above the Apostle Islands.
Aurora over Honeymoon Rock – Jeff Rennicke photo
“To watch the white sail of a full moon gliding across the stars or see the brushstroke of the Milky Way or the flicker of northern lights painting the night sky is to witness one of true the wonders of the world, a gift of nature,” says Jeff Rennicke, Executive Director of Friends of the Apostle Islands. And there are very few places in the world where that gift is on display more clearly than the Apostle Islands.
Artificial light pollutes the night sky for more than 80% of the world’s population. One third of humanity cannot see the Milky Way at night due to the luminescent glow of artificial light. But here in the islands, we enjoy some of the darkest skies in the lower 48 states. Far from the big cities, with clear air, and miles of open horizons, this area is a mecca for night sky viewing – the Milky Way arching across the sky, the constellations spelling out wonder, falling stars punctuating it all.
Summer of 2024 marks the “solar maximum” a time expected to bring some of the best northern light displays in years attracting night sky viewers from across the nation.
Friends of the Apostle Islands is working to ensure that the sky will always shine brightly over the islands.
One way to do that, Rennicke says, is working towards a Dark Sky Park designation through the International Dark Sky Association, a non-profit organization that works to protect International Dark Sky Places and promotes the importance of natural darkness for wildlife, human health, and cultural heritage to preserve the night sky for future generations.
“One of our priority issues for 2024 and beyond will be to look at the potential for protecting our dark sky resources here in the Islands through the identification and monitoring of light pollution, public outreach, increasing awareness, and more.”
“It would be a multi-year effort,” Executive Director Jeff Rennicke says, “requiring close consultation and cooperation from both the National Park Service and the surrounding communities but it would put the Apostle Islands in a select group of dark sky parks across the world in recognizing the incredible resource we have here for night skies.”
Currently the IDA has designated 200 sites in 22 countries on 6 continents including national parks such as Big Bend in Texas, Joshua Tree in California, Capitol Reef in Utah, and Voyageurs in Minnesota as well as other sites including Newport State Park right here in Wisconsin.
In order for national parks to be officially designated an International Dark Sky Park, they must meet strict criteria set by the IDA, including:
- Demonstrating high-quality starry nights
- Implementing responsible lighting practices
- Providing public education and outreach programs
- Monitoring the impact of artificial light on the night sky
“Our dark skies are a gift filled with beauty and wonder,” Rennicke says. “Preserving dark skies helps showcase that beauty, saves money, and protects wildlife like night migrating birds. It is a gift to all of us, open and available by simply stepping outside at night and looking up.”
For more information on the night sky and how you can help protect our dark skies, stay tuned to this website and join us at Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.