Light pollution is a growing problem in Utah, so much that officials at the University of Utah have created a new minor and science journal centered on dark skies.
“Dark skies have been historically understudied,” said Daniel Mendoza, the co-director of the consortium for dark skies studies at University of Utah. “Mainly our concerns have centered around air pollution and water pollution. More recent studies have started to find out light pollution is a significant problem. About 80% of residents from urbanized locations can no longer see the Milky Way, and this problem has become larger.”
Mendoza believes light pollution is a big problem. It affects astro-tourism in Moab and bird migration around Salt Lake City. It can harm our sleeping habits, and is even associated with air pollution. But these different problems were being discussed in different scientific journals – ones about the environment, or ornithology, or sleep, or air pollution – even though the root cause was the same.
“Up until we put together the Consortium of Dark Sky Studies, there was really no field that looked at dark sky studies. Dark sky studies was seen as more of an advocacy avenue. What we’re doing here is we’re actually legitimizing it as a scientific endeavor,” Mendoza said.
To meet that goal, University of Utah’s Consortium of Dark Sky Studies uses a three-prong approach.
“One is the journal of Dark Sky Studies. The other one is the proposed minor in Dark Sky Studies, and lastly is our community engagement work. The Consortium for Dark Sky Studies is the research center for dark sky studies, the first one of its type in the world,” Mendoza said.
The journal is free and features news, art and peer-reviewed science about dark skies. The minor is the first ever academic subject area to exclusively study dark skies, and includes three dark-skies specific classes and a capstone project.