Published: 13:03, May 19, 2023 | Updated: 13:02, May 19, 2023
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Dark-sky drive gives Shenzhen starry nights
By Xinhua

This photomontage taken on April 6, 2023 shows the star trails above Xichong community in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong province. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Getting away from the hustle and bustle to enjoy the quiet, dark sky and the Milky Way has recently become a trendy method for residents of southern Chinese metropolis Shenzhen, Guangdong province, to spend their holidays.

With the establishment of China's first International Dark Sky Community in Shenzhen last month, more and more Chinese people are taking an interest in dark sky conservation and light pollution control.

In April 2021, local authorities in Shenzhen began efforts to build a dark sky community in Xichong, about 60 kilometers from Shenzhen's downtown. In two years, lighting facilities in the community were upgraded to minimize unnecessary lighting and light pollution, and environmental standards for the dark sky community were formulated.

"It's incredible that there is a place to see the Milky Way in one of the most developed regions of China," says Mei Lin, head of the astronomy department at the Shenzhen Astronomical Observatory.

Mei made the remarks at the recent Forum for Dark and Quiet Sky Protection held at the Xinglong Observatory, run by National Astronomical Observatories China, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The forum was the largest on dark night conservation in China so far, according to Fan Zhou, deputy director of the Xinglong Observatory.

During the forum, participating experts from home and abroad conducted in-depth exchanges on the impact of lighting, radio and artificial satellites on the dark sky and discussed strategies for dark sky conservation in China and around the world.

"We hope to build a platform for communication and cooperation among astronomers, science popularizers and the government to raise the awareness of dark sky conservation among Chinese people," Fan says.

Ruskin Hartley, CEO and executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association, said at the forum that light pollution is growing at an alarming rate globally, with 83 percent of people living under light-polluted skies.

"This loss of darkness not only impacts our view of the stars, but also harms human health, disrupts ecosystems and wastes energy," says Hartley, adding that practical solutions need to be found to reduce light pollution.

Echoing his remarks, Fan says that in the past, people believed that the brighter a city was, the better the economic development it had. But now people are gradually realizing the need to protect the dark sky and have begun to make urban lighting more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

Building a beautiful China also requires preserving a starry sky, says Xiao Qing, deputy secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation.

According to Xiao, the foundation has set up several dark sky reserves in different regions and environments such as plateaus, coastal wetlands, mountains and lakes across China.

Scientists have found that Lenghu in Northwest China's Qinghai province has world-class conditions for astronomical observation.

In January this year, local authorities rolled out regulations for dark sky protection, which defines the area within 50 km of the astronomical observation environment of Lenghu as a core area for dark sky protection.

Furthermore, the regulations have strictly defined the type and brightness of light sources and the direction of illumination of all outdoor night lighting facilities within the core area.

"Through all these efforts, I believe that an environment suitable for astronomical observation will be well protected there," says Yang Fan, a senior engineer at NAOC's Lenghu base.

Experts also noted that with more and more people attracted to the starry night, dark sky protection can also boost economic development. Statistics showed that from April 2021 to this March, six astronomical tourism projects had been established in Xichong, drawing more than 200,000 people and generating a revenue of more than 18 million yuan ($2.6 million).

"Economic and social development does not conflict with dark night conservation," says Ye Jun, secretary-general of the Hangzhou Astronomical Society.

"Don't let stargazing become a fairy tale for our next generation," he adds.