Saturday 23 September 2017

New Zealand turns its gaze to starry-skied Kerry

Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

THEY are separated by almost 19,000km, located in opposite hemispheres, but a community in New Zealand is reaching out to Co Kerry to promote astronomy as a hobby.

Southwest Kerry joined one of the world's most exclusive groups earlier this year when it was named a gold tier International Dark Sky Reserve, recognising it as one of the best places in the world to observe the Milky Way.

The only other places to be given a similar status by the Arizona-based International Dark Sky Association are in New Zealand and Namibia.

And now New Zealand's Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky is reaching out to the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve in a joint effort to protect dark skies and fight against light pollution.

Margaret Munro, general manager of the Earth and Sky Observatory in New Zealand, home of the Aoraki Mackenzie reserve, said the two sites have now become kindred spirits.

"We have suggested swapping night shots between both locations.

"So in our daytime in New Zealand, the tourists who access our night tours can see night shots of Kerry Dark Sky Reserve from the northern hemisphere and in Kerry the tourists there would be able to see our night shots of the southern sky and the Milky Way," Ms Munro said.

Julie Ormonde, of the Kerry Dark-Sky Reserve, said the two locations could work together to promote astronomy and to fight light pollution.

"If we lose the darkness in these last bastions of the dark skies, we lose ourselves: the connection of who we are and where we came from," she said.

"Last year we had 183 stargazing nights – that's actually three-and-a-half nights per week.

TOURISM

"When the sun sinks down behind the horizon and it's cloudy, it's important to tell tourists coming to the area that it's not going to stay cloudy all night.

"They would definitely get at least two nights of stargazing in a week," she added.

Kerry's application for the dark-sky accreditation was supported by Failte Ireland and Kerry County Council to promote astro-tourism in the south-west region.

As part of the plan, astronomy classes for children will be offered and a permanent sky quality meter will be installed by scientists from Trinity College Dublin to monitor the readings.

Irish Independent

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