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Night Skies Over the LBJ Ranch Stargazing is Nov. 10

You can still see the Milky Way in much of the Hill Country — for as long as we find ways to limit light pollution.

When Wayne Gosnell settled in the Hill Country about 10 years ago after retiring from the Army, he marveled at its night skies. And, on a trip or two farther west, those stars got even brighter.

“Just west of the Hill Country, even out in Big Bend, the stars are much brighter. I thought, 'Why can’t we get those back in the Hill Country?’” he said.

So Gosnell began work on creating brighter night skies across the Hill Country.

On Saturday, Nov. 10, he will participate in Night Skies Over the LBJ Ranch at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, located north of U.S. 290 just off Ranch Road 1 between Stonewall and Johnson City. The program starts at 4:30 p.m. and goes into the night so people can experience the beauty of the heavens.

“Part of why we’re doing this is out at the LBJ Ranch, it offers an excellent place to observe the night skies because we don’t have all the city light pollution,” said Cynthia Dorminey, a park interpreter. “Those dark skies, where you can really see the stars, that’s something we’re losing in many of our areas. The skies we see now are nothing like we would have seen a hundred years ago because of the lights at night.”

The event features three programs, starting with a planetarium talk by John Watson of the Hill Country Astronomers.

But Gosnell said it’s more than a talk.

Watson will display the night sky, the very one that stretches from horizon to horizon above the ranch, across part of a screen, wall, or ceiling. It will show the stars and more that one would see looking up at the sky.

“He can also show you what the night sky looked like 100 years ago, a thousand years ago, because it changes,” Gosnell said. “He can home in on one part of the sky and begin zooming in on it, and closer and closer, until you’re looking at Hubble spacecraft photos. It’s an amazing program.”

Gosnell takes over at 5:15 p.m. with his program, "Big and Bright Are the Stars at Night."

He pointed out that the Hill Country still offers wonderful night skies, far better than in urban areas such as Austin and San Antonio. The problem is if local communities aren’t careful, we could lose some of those views.

“Seventy percent of the people on Earth can’t see the Milky Way because of light pollution,” Gosnell said. “The Hill Country still has some good night skies, but we need to do things to protect those skies.”

During his program, Gosnell will go over methods to protect and enhance night skies, including types of outdoor lights and ways to use them to cut down on light pollution. He’ll also address concerns some have with light reduction, or redirection, methods, such as less light at night meaning less safety.

“If light equated to safety, our cities would be the safest places around, and that’s not true,” he added.

Conserving and restoring dark skies doesn’t mean no lights, rather better use of them: adding motion detectors, placing shields over the top of lights, or redirecting them to where the light is more effective and beneficial.

It’s not just about aesthetics. Many studies have shown that constant light bombardment can have a negative affect on wildlife as well as humans.

There’s also an economic benefit to conserving the night skies, Gosnell pointed out.

“Here in Blanco and Blanco County, and in Marble Falls, we’re within seventy-five miles of about four million people who can’t see the Milky Way,” he pointed out. “We can get them out here to experience our incredible skies. They’ll stay overnight in our hotels, eat in our restaurants. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

At about 6 p.m. during the event, everyone will head to the park airstrip, where members of the Hill Country Astronomers will have telescopes so visitors can peer up into the heavens.

“When we look up at the night skies out here, at the ranch, we’re seeing the stars and skies like the settlers saw them before (light) pollution,” Dorminey said. “It ties us to our past.”

The event is free to attend, but visitors must arrive before 6 p.m. because that’s when park staff will close the gates to keep headlights from disturbing the night sky viewing.

Call (830) 644-2396 for updates or inclement weather announcements.

Go to blancocountynightsky.org or hillcountryalliance.org for more on protecting night skies. Visit hillcountryastronomers.com for more about the Hill Country Astronomers.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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