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Nevada's Massacre Rim Is Now A 'Dark Sky Sanctuary'

Kirk A. Peterson.

When you look at the United States from above at night, you’ll notice a lot of lights.

Most of them are concentrated in the East and Midwest, and as you move west they begin to thin.

And then, if you pinpoint Nevada and zoom in, you’ll find dark spots — so dark, they now have a special rating from the International Dark Sky Association.

The area with the newest designation is Massacre Rim in far northwest Washoe County. It has been named a Dark Sky Sanctuary.

“Is a very remote designation," Nora Kaufmann, stewardship manager for Friends of Nevada Wilderness said. "It is often the darkest type of dark sky designation, so we’re really excited about it," 

Other areas can be designated as a Dark Sky Community or a Dark Sky Park, she said. For instance, Flagstaff, Arizona is a community, while Great Basin National Park, Death Valley and Grand Canyon are all Dark Sky Parks.

Kaufmann said to get the designation they had to go to the area and research the natural landscape and actually take light readings with a sky quality meter.

“It kind of looks like a small tape recorder and you just point it up at the sky and you measure the darkness," she explained.

Researchers went out to the area during a new moon to make sure they would only be measuring the light from the night sky. 

Kaufmann said when the lights of an urban area are gone and the moon has set, the light from the stars is remarkable.

“One of the measurements is you can see the shadow by the light of the Milky Way, which is pretty incredible,” she said.

Massacre Rim has a dark sky rating of 22, that's compared to an urban area that will have a rating of 16 to 18 and rural area, which is between 18 and 21. 

Shaaron Netherton is the executive director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness. She said the dark sky designation goes hand in hand with protecting wilderness in the state.

“I think they are one and the same," she said, "I think the dark skies are a great part of our wilderness experience.”

A dark sky designation itself can't stop development in an area, Netherton said but Massacre Rim is already a protected wilderness area.

“That’s one of the things I think that makes this sanctuary so special is it is a piece of public land that has protection on it already to make sure that it stays that way,” she said.

Netherton said her group will be doing some tours of dark sky areas in the state, but that anyone can go out on their own to Massacre Rim, lay out a tarp and enjoy the night skies. 

Shaaron Netherton, executive director, Friends of Nevada Wilderness; Nora Kaufmann, stewardship manager, Friends of Nevada Wilderness

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.