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Bright Minds behind Dark Skies


Utahns are guardians of a precious resource—unspoiled darkness. With 80 percent of the world’s population blanketed in artificial light, Utah’s commitment to dark skies offers a celestial haven for stargazers. “We’re protecting our starry nights,” says Daniel Mendoza, who leads the U’s dark sky program and is a research assistant professor of atmospheric sciences. The university’s Consortium for Dark Sky Studies introduced the nation’s first minor in Dark Sky Studies in 2019, thanks to a $250,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation. 

This trailblazing initiative housed in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning merges science, public health, urban planning, and the arts. The three primary areas of focus are policy, environmental justice, and cultural anthropology—the study of human societies and culture and their development.

These important efforts do more than just improve stargazing, says Mendoza. Light pollution destroys wildlife habitat, is linked to myriad human diseases, and wastes public funds on inefficient lighting systems. Additionally, astrotourism is projected to generate nearly $6 billion and employ 113,000 people in the Southwest in 10 years, per the Utah Office of Tourism.

This nighttime photo of Zion National Park was taken by DarkSky International Director of Engagement Bettymaya Foott HBS’15. 

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