A wilderness area tucked into a corner of northwestern Nevada near the borders of California and Oregon has become only the seventh place in the world to be designated an International Dark Sky Sanctuary.
The Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area in Nevada’s Washoe County received the designation from the International Dark-Sky Association.
The IDA says a Dark Sky Sanctuary is a place that has an “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.”
Proposed sanctuaries must meet a strict set of standards and successfully complete a rigorous application and review process, the association says.
The Bureau of Land Management and Friends of Nevada Wilderness applied for the designation for Massacre Rim, a 158-square-mile study area about 150 miles north of Reno, Nevada.
“While all of the wilderness areas and wilderness study areas in Nevada are special remote places, the Massacre Rim WSA stands out because it is so far from any major populated areas, making light pollution there next to immeasurable,” Friends of Nevada Wilderness executive director Shaaron Netherton said in a news release. “People lucky enough to venture there on a clear moonless night will not only see the enormity of the Milky Way but will also be awestruck to view our neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, with the naked eye.”
As part of the application process, workers from Friends of Nevada Wilderness used special instruments to measure the visibility of stars and other natural light in the night sky, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
“It is something magical to drive around the WSA at night,” the group’s associate director Kurt Kuznicki said. “You start drinking coffee at 10 o’clock at night and drive around listening to the radio.”
Massacre Rim is now the fourth Dark Sky Sanctuary in the United States. The others are Cosmic Campground in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico; the Devils River State Natural Area — Del Norte Unit in Del Rio, Texas; and the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Lake Powell, Utah.
The Great Barrier Island and Stewart Island in New Zealand are also sanctuaries.
The Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary is at Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Observatory in the Elqui Valley of northern Chile.