Scottish park set to become Mecca for star-gazers

Mon Nov 16, 2009 12:30pm EST
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A corner of Scotland has been designated Britain's first "Dark Sky Park," aiming to become a world-class destination for star-gazers.

Unlike most of densely populated Britain, where light pollution stops 90 percent of people from seeing the Milky Way, the Galloway Forest Park, a 300 square-mile (777 sq km) expanse of southwestern Scotland, is almost totally dark at night.

The Forestry Commission, which runs the park, hopes the award will double visitor numbers from the current 850,000 a year as city dwellers from nearby Edinburgh and Glasgow flock to view stars that are impossible to see from urban areas.

"Tourism is the single largest economic development opportunity for southwest Scotland," said the Forestry Commission's Keith Muir. "The award, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, should be seen as a universal achievement."

Galloway becomes only the fourth Dark Sky Park in the world, under a system created by the International Dark Sky Association, a U.S.-based organization that campaigns to reduce light pollution and wasted energy. All three others are in the United States.

To win the designation, the park worked with lighting experts to ensure what artificial light there is in the area is kept to a minimum. Measuring freedom from light pollution on a scale going up to a pitch-dark 24, Galloway scored 23. City skies usually score around 15 or 16, the Commission said.

(Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Steve Addison)

<p>A long exposure picture shows the trail of the planet Mars as the brightest among stars as it crosses the night sky over Bolshoy (Big) Almaty lake at 2,600 meters above sea level in a mountains outside Almaty August 27, 2003. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov</p>