SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A person who lives near Wall can look up at the sky almost any night and see stars.
But what if you live in Chicago? Or Denver?
People have been “blown away” by the sight of the night sky in South Dakota, said Katlyn Svendsen, the Global Media & Public Relations Director for the South Dakota Department of Tourism.
South Dakota is home to one of eight dark sky places left in the continental U.S, said Diane Knutson, the president of DarkSky International and founder of the DarkSky South Dakota Chapter. While the state is one of eight, “the area is shrinking and not easily acceptable,” Knutson said.
The night sky is a natural resource to preserve and share, those who frequently look at the sky said.
SD Tourism sees the skies as an attraction and resource to share with many and to promote like it does with other top attractions in the state. The department has been working with Knutson and DarkSky, Svendsen said.
“There’s a lot that can attract people by being able to look up in the sky and see the natural wonders that people thousands of years ago on earth before there were big city lights got to enjoy,” said Tom Durkin, the Deputy Director of South Dakota Space Grant Consortium based at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
“It’s free. Families can enjoy it,” Svendsen said. It’s part of the element of slowing down and spending time together.
SD Tourism realized as it had been sharing night sky small events with visitors to the state that others would be attracted to the sky.
Some of the youngest visitors to South Dakota may not have really seen the sky if they live in Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis and even Des Moines, she said. Those are all cities in which the state does marketing and states from which many visitors to the state come from.
Promotion of this natural attraction is in its infancy. Although it has promoted the night sky and sky in social media and other arenas, Svendsen said the department does not yet have any hard data on how many visitors the night skies draw to the state but does plan to add to future web (online) analytics like it has for other visitor categories.
Some night sky watchers “are just like birders who follow migration patterns of birds,” Svendsen said. The sky watchers seek the best places and times to watch the sky.
“It’s very smart,” Durkin said of SD Tourism’s plan to increase promoting dark sky tourism.
“I’ve met people who plan their vacations around dark sky sights,” Durkin said.
Svendsen said Badlands National Park and Wind Cave National Park are both applying to be designated dark sky sites. If they achieve that designation it will boost SD tourism’s promotion of dark sky opportunities in the state, Svendsen said.
What do we see when we look up?
“You can see something different every night,” said South Dakota photographer Randy Halverson.
There are thousands of things to see in the night sky, Durkin said.
The night sky reveals constellations, plants, galaxies, meteors and more.
What is seen can depend on the night, season, equipment and location.
A cloudless summer night with low humidity can offer a stunning view of the Milky Way.
Halverson said the Milky Way will still be powerful this month but will begin to fade with November.
Still, Durkin said, the Milky Way will be visible during the late fall and throughout the winter.
But with fall and winter, the Northern Lights should be more visible on those dark South Dakota nights.
Halverson captures the night sky with his camera. He uses time-lapse most often to record the night sky.
Some people use their own telescopes or even high-powered binoculars.
But their eyes can see plenty, Durkin said.
Observers just need to make sure they are in dark place.
Durkin said South Dakota residents are generally within an hour of a dark spot to view the sky.
Knutson said “Flatter areas are more exposed to the spread and light pollution spreads faster and more intensly along with additional glare and bounce back with snow.”
Sioux Falls would likely not be a good viewing area.
“Light pollution from Sioux Falls travels into the Pipestone National Monument, Mitchell, Newton Hills State Park, and Brookings, and everything in between and also well beyond those areas too,” Knutson said.
Preserving the night sky resource to share
Although it seems South Dakota may have plenty of dark sky, there is a threat. The threat is the light that comes from parking lots, businesses and similar.
The International DarkSky Association works to reclaim and protect the night sky by decreasing the expansion of light pollution, Knutson said.
Knutson works with cities, counties, states and territories that want to reduce their light pollution footprint.
A dark sky designation at a national park highlights the importance of minimizing light pollution, Durkin said. Any park project will need to include minimizing light pollution, Durkin said. Light needs to be kept to the ground and not flashing far up toward the sky, he said.
If SD Tourism gets behind night sky tourism and a dark sky designation at a national park, that is good for night skies, Durkin said.
It can help city planners understand the need for better or covered lighting to reduce the impact of light pollution, he said.
So, who comes to see the night sky?
The Badlands Astronomy Festival is held each year in July.
Svendsen said that is an indicator of the interest in the sky.
Thousands of people of all ages from all over the world attend the festival, Durkin said.
“People come from many places around the world specifically to see the dark skies at the Badlands,” Durkin said.
But the Badlands isn’t the only place that draws dark sky and sky enthusiasts.
“There are lots of existing and growing astrotourism including to ranches, farms, cities, rural areas…,” Knutson said.
Svendsen said a key part of future marketing is to highlight opportunities in rural areas and towns. Small towns don’t have to invest a lot to benefit from dark sky opportunities, she said.
There are opportunities with a dark sky, Knutson said, but the state needs to make sure it preserves them.