The annual Leonid meteor shower will reach its peak this week. But will you be able to see it? You might need to get away from city lights.
About 80 percent of people in the United States live in urban areas. In these areas, the glow of artificial light sources can blot out the wonders of the night sky. City lights make it hard to see anything besides the brightest stars, planets, and celestial phenomena.
For the best viewing, you need to find an area well away from city or street lights. One solution is a dark sky park. In the U.S. and around the world parks are achieving certification from the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), an organization that calls attention to light pollution. To gain certification, a park must not only meet specific requirements for the quality of observing conditions, but it should also fulfill other obligations such as having a lighting management plan and education programs.
The image of the United States at the top of this page is a nighttime composite assembled from data acquired in 2012 by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite. The inset boxes show the general location of two IDA gold-tier parks—the highest dark sky designation—where the full array of visible sky phenomena can be seen with the naked eye.
"It's important to point out that these places aren't "dark." They are naturally lit by celestial sources. You can walk in a field in starlight, and through the woods in moonlight," said Christopher Kyba, a postdoctoral scholar at the German Research Center for Geoscience and a member of the IDA board of directors. "The difference is that the city lights are way brighter than natural light, and that's the problem."