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Davis Journal

Winter stargazing on Antelope Island offers a unique view of the night skies

Jan 05, 2023 11:20AM ● By Peri Kinder

Dark-Sky photography is popular on Antelope Island State Park. With the park’s Dark-Sky designation, photographers like Ryan Andreasen capture phenomenal views of the heavens. Photo courtesy of Andreasen

As cities get brighter, our view of the stars gets dimmer. With more people living under artificial light, it’s changing the way we see our skies and blocking astral views we used to enjoy. A world-wide effort to reduce light pollution encourages communities to create Dark Sky areas to help people return to a natural nighttime environment. 
In 2017, Antelope Island earned the Dark-Sky designation administered by the International Dark Sky Association and it’s become a place to witness exceptional views of the night sky. 
Utah has 10 state parks and 24 locations that have earned the Dark-Sky designation. In fact, the state has the highest number of certified Dark-Sky Parks and Communities in the world. But Antelope Island offers a unique experience.
“Our geography out here really made it possible to earn the designation,” said Trish Ackley, park naturalist for Antelope Island State Park. “We’re surrounded by a lake. We’re undeveloped out here and the lake makes it almost impossible for development to encroach on us, so already the park was pretty dark. We did have to adjust some lighting and eliminate some lighting that wasn’t necessary.”
It can take years for a location to earn approval from IDA. The effort to get the designation was spearheaded by Wendy Wilson, now the assistant park manager at Antelope Island State Park. There are several requirements to keep the designation each year, including public outreach and working with community partners to bring awareness to light pollution. 
Winter is Ackley’s favorite time to stargaze on Antelope Island because it gets dark much earlier and the pesky mosquitoes and gnats aren’t around to irritate visitors. But she does warn people to bundle up, because it can get really cold. 
“It’s a little warmer out here than it is on the Wasatch Front because we’re surrounded by what is usually a warmer body of water, but it’s often windy,” she said. “If you’re taking pictures, be sure to wear gloves. Just bundle up.”
While summertime stargazing at the park is popular, with star parties, astronomy programs and dark sky photography, it’s been harder to get people to enjoy the dark skies during the colder months. But Ackley said the benefits to winter stargazing are numerous.
“Winter constellations are, in my opinion, so much better than summer constellations. There are just more stories to see and more you can play with and use your imagination in the winter.”
Although Antelope Island State Park closes at 10 p.m. during the winter months, it gets dark enough to see a phenomenal star show starting around 7 or 8 p.m. It’s a good time for families to visit and still get the kids home in time for bed. 
As light pollution continues to increase, the International Dark-Sky Association states more than 80% of the country can no longer see the Milky Way. Artificial light has been shown to affect sleep cycles, disrupt migratory patterns in birds and even contribute to climate change. 
Ackley said Utah home and business owners can reduce light pollution and help protect views of the night sky. Small changes like using lights only when and where necessary, shielding lights and directing them downward, using warmer light bulbs and closing window blinds at night are all ways to reduce light pollution.
As our view of the stars dims, people are traveling to locations with Dark-Sky designations to catch a glimpse of what’s missing from bright cities, towns and neighborhoods.
“Astro-tourism is really picking up. People are starting to travel to darker places and seeking that out,” Ackley said. “Most people don’t have access to the Milky Way. It’s up there but we don’t think about it and don’t see it. But now that people are getting a taste of that, it’s really powerful. People want that.”
For information about Antelope Island’s Dark Skies program, visit