Night sky shines bright in Big Bend
The Big Bend Region of Texas enjoys some of the best night sky viewing in the continental United States. West of the Pecos River, the night skies have long been an iconic element of the landscape, a tradition that dates back centuries to the people who lived here long before Europeans arrived.
More recently, the night sky has been the subject of careful and continuous scrutiny by professional astronomers at the McDonald Observatory, located atop 6,800-foot Mount Locke. Far from the lights of large cities and the clouds of coastal Texas, the observatory has numerous research telescopes and state-of-the-art instruments for imaging and spectroscopy.
According to the National Park Service, Big Bend National Park has earned the distinction as the park with the least light pollution in the lower 48 states. On clear and moonless nights, over 2,000 stars, planets and “shooting stars” are visible to the unaided eye. As it becomes increasingly difficult to find areas free of air pollution and light interference, places with dark, clear night skies become that much more valuable. Because of this, the region also hosts one of the largest annual amateur astronomy gatherings in the USA, the Texas Star Party.
The City of Alpine, the Alpine Environmental Advisory Board and the Alpine Chamber of Commerce are working with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) to become an International Dark Sky Community (IDSC). In July 2009, Sierra la Rana, a residential development adjacent to Alpine, was designated as a Dark Sky Friendly Development of Distinction by the IDA. In addition, Big Bend National Park is working with the IDA to be designated a “Dark Sky Park”. aT
43 miles north on TX 118
One of the world’s leading centers for astronomical research, public education and outreach. McDonald Observatory features facility tours, Star Parties and student programs. The Observatory enjoys some of the best dark skies in the U.S. and is rated as one of the best places to view the heavens.