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New Zealand Announces Second International Dark Sky Park

New Zealand Announces Second International Dark Sky Park

By Drew Reagan, DarkSky Author

OXFORD, New Zealand — Oxford Forest Conservation Area, covering 11,350 hectares, has been certified as the newest International Dark Sky Park in New Zealand by DarkSky International. The recognition stems from the community’s dedication to promoting practical lighting policies, conducting outreach and education on the benefits of better lighting, and gaining local support to reduce light pollution.

The first conversations on creating a dark sky site date back more than five years ago; however, it wasn’t until early 2023 when residents put together a plan and started Oxford Dark Sky, the volunteer group made up of more than 20 local public and private organizations, who would go on to drive the initiative.

Mike Hart, Oxford Area School Principal and Oxford Dark Sky member, says, “We believe the introduction of the Oxford Dark Sky Park will increase our connection with the community, enabling us to link with our area’s cultural and celestial heritage. It will provide many learning opportunities for our students through work around environmental impacts and energy resources, underpinning our work with the Observatory.”

Local support and momentum have continued to grow across schools and the township. Thomas Robson, Oxford-Ohoka Community Board Chairperson, and Oxford Dark Sky member adds, “Locals have long appreciated the area’s night sky, and it will be good to share this natural unspoiled beauty with night sky enthusiasts. We look forward to supporting this initiative in any way we can going forward.” Collaboration with neighboring Christchurch City, Selwyn, and Hurunui is already under discussion.

“This effort is an excellent example of how collaboration, education, and outreach can raise awareness and inspire change at the community level. Economic development, marketing strategies, and district lighting plans are now being developed with an eye towards dark sky conservation for the benefit of the community and future generations. Such outcomes are a goal of the Dark Sky Places certification program,” stated Amber Harrison, Dark Sky Places Program Manager.

Sky brightness measurements in the Oxford Forest Conservation Area average 21.46 magnitudes per square arc second, surpassing the required threshold, with some readings as high as 21.80 magnitudes per square arc second. “The Oxford sky is truly pristine — we get some of the best naked-eye views of the Milky Way and from just about anywhere in Oxford,” says Oxford Dark Sky President Raul Elias-Drago. Specialized sensors measure light emanating from a very small patch of night sky overhead, equivalent to about the size of a blueberry at a distance of 4 kilometers. Unshielded external lights, moonlight, cloud cover, fog, month, and time of night greatly affect sky darkness. The Park is open to the public 365 days/year and 24 hours/day.

The Oxford sky and its proximity to Christchurch make the dark site unique. “Oxford offers one of the darkest and most accessible dark sky experiences in New Zealand. Here, you can enjoy an amazingly dark sky and peer straight into the Galactic Centre – all of this at less than 1 hour from downtown Christchurch, the Canterbury ski fields, or our international airport,” adds Mr. Elias-Drago. Given the choice in accommodation, restaurants, shopping, astronomy and outdoor activities, the Group expects Oxford to feature on many weekend and travel itineraries: “come to Oxford and just look up!”

Click here for more information about International DarkSky Places.

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