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Dark Sky Reserve in Ladakh, Meaning, Criteria, Importance

Context: Ladakh will soon have South East Asia’s first Night Sky Sanctuary at Hanle. It will be South East Asia’s first Night Sky sanctuary situated within Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary.

What is Dark Sky Reserve?

  • Definition: A Dark Sky Reserve is an area, either public or private, recognized for its exceptionally starry nights and nocturnal environment, developed to minimise light pollution.
  • Recognized By: The International Dark Sky Association (IDSA), a U.S.-based non-profit, is responsible for designating lands as Dark Sky Reserves.
  • Categories of Dark Sky Places: The IDSA classifies Dark Sky Places into five types: International Dark Sky Parks, Communities, Reserves, Sanctuaries, and Urban Night Sky Places.

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Criteria for Designation of Dark Sky Reserve

The International Dark Sky Association (IDSA) deems a location suitable for a Dark Sky Place based on the following criteria:

  • The land, whether public or private, must be conserved for purposes like science, nature, education, culture, heritage, or public enjoyment.
  • It should be partly or wholly accessible to the public at times throughout the year.
  • The core area should offer an exceptional quality of dark skies in comparison to the surrounding urban areas.

Why Ladakh is chosen for the Dark Sky Reserve Location?

  • High Elevation: Situated 4,500 metres above sea level, the region is exceptionally suited for hosting telescopes.
  • Geographical Advantages: Ladakh’s vast, dry area, coupled with its high altitude and low population density, makes it perfect for long-term observatories and maintaining dark skies.
  • Clear Night Skies: The Hanle region’s cloudless skies and minimal atmospheric disturbance enable clear visibility of the Milky Way Galaxy throughout the night.
  • Notable Astronomical Presence: Hanle houses the world’s second-highest optical telescope, established in 2001 by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
  • Institutional Support: The project receives backing from the Department of Science and Technology and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bengaluru.

Dark Sky Reserve in India

India currently has only one Dark Sky Reserve, the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve, located in the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary in Ladakh. It was designated as a Dark Sky Reserve in 2018 and is the first such reserve in India. The Hanle Dark Sky Reserve has pristine dark skies due to its high altitude (4,500 meters) and remoteness. The reserve is also home to the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO), which has been conducting astronomical research for over 50 years.

Importance of Dark Sky Reserves

Dark Sky Reserves are important for a number of reasons:

  • Benefits for astronomy: Dark Sky Reserves provide ideal conditions for astronomy, as the low levels of light pollution allow astronomers to observe faint objects in the night sky.
  • Benefits for scientific research: Dark Sky Reserves can also be used for scientific research into the night sky, such as studying the effects of light pollution on wildlife and the environment.
  • Benefits for public education: Dark Sky Reserves can be used to educate the public about the importance of dark skies and the effects of light pollution.
  • Benefits for tourism: Dark Sky Reserves can also be used to attract tourists, as they provide a unique opportunity to experience the beauty of the night sky.

Most Famous Dark Sky Reserve

There are currently over 200 Dark Sky Reserves around the world, located in a variety of countries and environments. Some of the most famous Dark Sky Reserves include:

  • Death Valley National Park, California, USA
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia
  • Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  • Teide National Park, Spain
  • Mauna Kea Observatories, Hawaii, USA

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Dark Sky Reserve

What is meant by dark sky reserve?

A Dark Sky Reserve is a designated area that has exceptionally dark skies, free from light pollution. These reserves are recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), an organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the night sky.

Where is the dark sky reserve in India?

India's sole Dark Sky Reserve is the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve, situated within the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary in Ladakh.

Which country has most dark sky reserves?

As of October 2023, the United States has the most Dark Sky Reserves with 120.

What are the benefits of Dark Sky Reserve?

Dark Sky Reserves offer a multitude of benefits, including Preserving the night sky, Supporting astronomy research, Enhancing public education and Promoting astrotourism.

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