Western North Carolina is home to three very important and special observatories: the Bare Dark Sky Observatory at Mayland Earth To Sky Park; the Lookout Observatory at UNCAsheville; and Grassland Mountain Observatory in Madison County. The Sierra Club will host a presentation discussing these important spaces on Thursday, January 3, from 7–9 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville.
Presenters will include Margaret Earley-Thiele, executive director of the Mayland Community College Foundation, and Bernard Arghiere, past president of the Astronomy Club of Asheville, which operates the Grassland Mountain Observatory and partners with the UNC-Asheville Physics Department to manage the Lookout Observatory. “Dark sky observatories provide people with a chance to see and feel the magic of a truly star-filled sky,” says Arghiere. “These observatories bring our solar system and the universe a whole lot closer to the residents of our region.” Arghiere adds that an experience at a dark sky observatory can be a catalyst for children to pursue the study of sciences.
Arghiere has led the design and construction of three observatories in the Western North Carolina region and is a driving force for the outdoor lighting ordinances that protect night skies in Asheville, Woodfin and Buncombe County. “Fewer and fewer folks have ever experienced the natural wonder of a truly dark sky, where the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy is visible to the unaided eye on a clear, moonless night,” he says. “This experience helps provide the wonder and inspiration to ask those important questions like, ‘How and where do I fit in this immense universe?’”
Earley-Thiele will discuss the history of dark skies at the site of the Mayland Earth to Sky Park, which was built on top of an old landfill adjacent to the local transfer and recycling drop-off. As a result, there is very little development surrounding it, which creates an ideal location for extremely dark skies. “Dark sky observatories are important to our community for many reasons,” says Earley-Thiele. “They provide an educational opportunity for people to experience the stars and planets. They are also a conservation effort—light pollution is a growing problem which not only prevents humans from enjoying the night sky but also throws off the circadian rhythms of wildlife.” Earley-Thiele also mentions that dark sky observatories offer an important economic development opportunity for rural regions. “Half of the visitors to the Bare Dark Sky Observatory are from out of town,” she says. “Many come from Charlotte and Atlanta just to attend a viewing night at the Observatory. That provides an important revenue stream for our counties because they stay within the area.”
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville is located at 1 Edwin Place. For more information, visit Wenoca.org.