Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Visit to Westhavelland Nature Park

Last week I was in Berlin Germany attending the first International Artificial Light At Night conference. It was an amazing event that brought together over 100 researchers from five continents. One of the conference excursions was a visit to one of the darkest places in Germany - Westhavelland Nature Park. For some time now there has been a concerted effort to engage the communities that surround the park in an effort for them to improve their outdoor lighting and make and also make an application to the International Dark-Sky Association for official status as one of their Dark Sky Places.

It was a long expedition from Berlin (especially since our driver initially headed in the wrong direction) but we had a great visit first to the park's nature center where we were greeted by the mayor of Milow (above, at right with the microphone pointed at him) and the director of the center (to the left of the mayor). 
In addition to exhibits on the natural history of the park, the visitor center has several exhibits devoted to light pollution and the night sky. Above is an iPhone panorama that I shot showing off some of the light pollution displays.
Canon 3Ti, 18mm, f/5.6, ISO 6400, 30 sec
The real treat of the evening came when we ventured into the heart of the park. The shot above is looking west. The white glow just right of center is apparently from a paper mill that clearly needs to improve its outdoor lighting.
Canon 3Ti, 18mm, f/5.6, ISO 6400, 30 sec
This view is looking in the same direction, but with the camera pointed higher. Below is the view to the east. It was taken looking over our bus, which produced the bright glows at the bottom of the frame.
Canon 3Ti, 18mm, f/5.6, ISO 6400, 30 sec
The Milky Way was easily visible even though we were not really given time for our eyes to adapt much at all before we were loaded back into the bus. From there we headed to the village of Gülpe where we were greeted by the chief administrator of the city of Rhinow and treated to some stargazing.
Canon 3Ti, 18mm, f/5.6, ISO 6400, 30 sec
The skies here were not quite as dark and some clouds were drifting through as well, but we had a nice look at the universe.
Canon 3Ti, 18mm, f/5.6, ISO 6400, 30 sec
Be sure to check out this great video of the skies above Westhavelland from Harald Bardenhagen.

Yes, there is light pollution that impacts the park but there has already been significant effort to protect the skies there and the work to bring the surrounding communities in on the dark skies movement are to be commended. 

Westhavelland is just one of several planned dark sky places in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. While attending the conference I had the chance to visit with a few of the  people working on these projects. I certainly wish them much success.

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