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Milky Way Season Is Here!

Happy Summer Stargazers! Milky Way season has arrived in Joshua Tree and I am here with tips and tricks to help you see this amazing site. With minimal light pollution and dark skies, Joshua Tree is a wonderful place to capture a view of our galaxy with just your eyes. 

What makes dark skies.. dark?

For millennia humans have looked to the sky for guidance, inspiration and knowing. However ancient beings had the ability to see a sky that is lost today. Light pollution from houses, city buildings and street illumination has caused dark skies to become a rare beauty. Over 80% of Americans live in an area too light polluted to see the band of the Milky Way. Those who live close to major cities strain to see even some of the brightest stars. As development continues, and lighting increases, dark skies become increasingly rare. 

Dark Sky International certifies and preserves areas with dark skies. Through advocacy and education we can help the problem of light pollution and improve the night sky so future generations can participate in the awe obtained from looking into a starry night. There are steps we can all take to better our light footprint. Dark Sky certifies lighting as dark sky approved and known to limit light pollution. See below a guide for how to make your home more dark sky compliant.

The Effect of Light on Life

Humans are not the only beings affected by light pollution. Animals rely on the regular cycle of day and night for eating, reproducing and protection. Light pollution alters an animal's ability to perform natural biological cycles. 

Many insects are attracted to light, causing them to forget crucial life functions. Insect decline is a serious topic, as many life forms rely on insects for food and pollination. Sea turtles, hatched on land, are attracted back to the ocean by the glow off the water. Artificial light’s confuse the baby turtles, causing thousands to be disoriented with no chance of survival. 

There are many species on the planet affected by artificial light, and humans are no exception.

We also rely on darkness for sleep and health. Studies show that bright light affects natural sleep cycles causing and effect on our bodies when awake. Health issues like depression, obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

“When we add light to the environment, that has the potential to disrupt habitat, just like running a bulldozer over the landscape can.”

– Chad Moore, co-founder of the U.S. National Park Service Night Skies Program

Where to find the Darkest Skies?

There are many resources to use when looking for a dark sky area. Here is a list of DarkSky certified Places which will show a general overview of what parks, communities, urban areas, sanctuaries and reserves have exceptionally dark skies and continuously work to preserve this wonder. Recently added to the certification process is Dark Sky approved lodging, a great way to support and find accommodations that reduce outdoor lighting and produce starry skies.

Light pollution maps provide a detailed look on what areas on the planet are in good bands of darkness and best for stargazing. For those visiting Joshua Tree, check out our guide on stargazing in the area.

When is the Milky Way viewable?

Desire to view the Milky Way is a driving force for many stargazers coming to the desert. For many months of the year, the band of our galaxy rises late, or early in the morning before the sun. Summer is deemed ‘Milky Way season’ because our galaxy is visible in the evening hours, just a short while after the sun sets. From July through September, the Milky Way is high in the sky before midnight and optimal for viewing. 

What are the best conditions for Milky Way viewing?

The Milky Way is hard to find in most areas because it is a relatively faint object and cannot shine through city lights. Even some relatively bright stars are invisible under light polluted urban areas! Venture away from street lamps and sky glow for the best chance at this sight.

Here at Stargazing Joshua Tree, we love the moon! It is a wonder to view through a telescope, looking up close at the low craters and high mountains on its surface. As one of the brightest objects in the sky, second only to the sun, a highly illuminated moon does affect how many stars you can see in the sky and the visibility of the Milky Way. Our galaxy is best seen on a moonless or thin crescent evening. A few days after the full phase, the moon rises late in the evening, allowing for optimal Milky Way viewing. This is true for the following two weeks as well, until the moon makes its way around Earth and pops back out in the evening sky, shortly after the new moon. Check out this moon calendar to find out when this occurs each month!

Clear skies and happy stargazing!

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