West Texas Dark Skies Initiative is going international with Mexico collaboration

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ODESSA, Texas (Big 2/Fox 24) — The McDonald Observatory is applying to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) to establish an International Dark Sky Reserve (DSR) in the Big Bend region of far West Texas and Northern Mexico. Such certification will help raise awareness of the value of protecting the night skies for ongoing astronomical research at the Observatory and encourage communities in the area to adopt night sky friendly outdoor lighting practices. Such practices create a safer and more attractive nighttime environment, promoting eco- and astro-tourism in the region. Also, mitigating the amount of artificial light shining wasted into the night sky helps protect major
wildlife habitats and migration corridors throughout the Big Bend.

Looking toward the center of the milky way it’s just spectacular under a dark night time sky. The places you can go in the country or the world to see a naturally dark night sky are becoming fewer and far between.

Bill Wren, special assistant to superintendent, McDonald Observatory

That is why an international dark sky reserve has been created in the big bend region.
It promotes the astronomical research the observatory does.

If the sky brightness is brighter than the object that we are trying to look at – it’s lost. Can’t see it, can’t study it can’t learn anything.

Bill Wren, special assistant to superintendent, McDonald Observatory

It also will keep up the eco and astro tourism that draws visitors from all over down to far West Texas.

This area, the big bend region has become a dark sky destination. The visitor center at the observatory sees about 100,000 people a year the come through public parties, star parties, looking through telescopes.

Bill Wren, special assistant to superintendent, McDonald Observatory

Wren says this idea of international collaboration has been a dream of many people who work in observatory conservation for a long time. He also says there is 16 international dark skies initiative worldwide. If they are successful in establishing the one in Big Bend. tt will be bigger than all of them combined.

The idea of an international park along the big bend of the Rio Grande has been around since FDR in the 1930’s and there are still groups on both sides trying to establish something of that kind.

Bill Wren, special assistant to superintendent, McDonald Observatory

Now that it’s happening, going through the logistics has been difficult. In America, most of that land is public. In Mexico, that is not the case.

We’re in talks with reps from Sinax cooperation which is the largest private landowner in those protected areas. So far the response has been very good. The interest is there and over the course of the past month or so in reaching out and making contact with people both sides of the river we have run into very little push back if any. Everyone wants to know how they can help.

Bill Wren, special assistant to superintendent, McDonald Observatory

McDonald Observatory is a 500-acre satellite campus of the University of Texas at Austin,
located in the heart of the Davis Mountains in far West Texas. This world-class astronomical
research facility is home to some of the world’s largest telescopes and darkest night skies. The
Observatory maintains a robust public outreach program, including Guided Tours of its research
facilities, evening Star Parties three times a week, accredited teacher workshops, and live streaming telescopic tours of the night sky, the Moon, and the Sun.

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