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Star Stuff – Episode 17 Transcript – Exploring Dark Skies with Grand Canyon “Dark Sky Ranger” Rader Lane

This is an automated transcript from Star Stuff Podcast Episode 17: Exploring Dark Skies with Grand Canyon “Dark Sky Ranger” Rader Lane. You can listen to the audio of this episode here.

00:14.00

Cody

Hello and welcome back to Star Stuff. My name is Cody Half-Moon and today we are joined by our very own historian Kevin Schindler our co-host Hailey Osborn of course

00:27.00

Hailey 

Hi guys

00:28.00

Cody

And we have a special guest today, a dark sky advocate and park ranger at the Grand Canyon named Rader Lane. What’s up Rader? 

00:18.90

Cody

Kind of what you do with the Canyon and you were talking about dark skies. Did you want to give a quick walkthrough of a typical day and night. So like you show up to work. What does a typical day look like for you?

00:29.38

Rader Lane

Sure. Well a typical day at the park. Ah well, it’s really,. It’s really always atypical.. There’s not really a typical day. There’s always something crazy going on. Ah if I could thread some sort of of.

00:47.43

Cody

Truth.

00:54.13

Rader Lane

Ah, normality in a day. It would look something like you know, working the visitor center desk maybe for an hour helping people plan their trips walking along the rim of the canyon talking to visitors using informal interpretive techniques to sort of connect people to the park while they’re standing there on the rim. You might give a program or 2 ah during the day and then you might go back and sort of work on collateral duties. Ah, for me, it would be things like organizing The Grand Canyon Star Party which is a pretty large event that takes several months to organize or you know doing you know getting my hands into various other outreach programs that are sort of on a longer-term longer burn.

01:51.73

Rader Lane

Type of schedule so that’d be a typical day and then you know into the evening we offer evening programs every night and those you know rangers will give those programs and there are anything from you know, geology to history. But a lot of them were focused on night skies and those involve mainly going out under just incredibly dark skies and giving constellation programs with a laser pointer or or having a few telescopes set out and showing people the night sky through the scopes.

02:29.30

Cody

And we’ll be out there for the Star Party.

02:37.90

Rader Lane

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Lowell Observatory’s coming up to help out at the Grand Canyon star party this June and Kevin yeah yeah, solar telescopes during the day setting up a booth doing some outreach there and then.

02:46.56

Cody

I know we’re going to have some solar telescope stuff.

02:56.39

Rader Lane

Kevin Schindler here is going to be one of our special guest speakers in our theater and talk about the history of he’s so famous. Yeah, he’s so good. We keep, we keep him because he’s infamous. Yeah, we keep bringing him back every year just because it’s such. You know it’s.

03:03.75

Cody

Gosh, he’s so famous.

03:05.22

Kevin

Yeah, infamous.

03:15.70

Rader Lane

His talk is such a ah ah a classic at the Grand Canyon talking about the you know the history of the Apollo astronauts. Ah you know training at The Grand Canyon to prepare themselves for you know geologic explorations on the lunar surface. So. It’s just such a classic talk that people connect with. and so we’ve had Kevin up for several years I think at this point in a row.

03:40.17

Cody

Yeah, we’ve forced him on many podcasts in a row too.

03:43.77

Hailey

Mhm, yeah.

03:44.34

Rader Lane

Yeah, yeah, he’s a great guy to teach you just the wealth of knowledge. And we actually have some, you know, history. Kevin and I of doing some fun, you know research in the park and recreating some of those astronaut photos that were taken back in the or the mid 1960’s you know, trying to go down into the canyon and recreate those photos and we actually found some some really fun, ah, really fun things about those photos so some so similarities in the landscape some ways that the landscape has changed so it was it’s been ah.

04:05.51

Cody

How fun.

04:22.70

Rader Lane

Been a fun side project that I’ve helped Kevin with over the years

05:02.43

Cody

Um, and today of course we’re focusing on dark skies to celebrate international dark sky week. So thanks for being our special guest. We’ll have to get you back up though to talk about that lunar landing stuff.

05:02.55

Hailey

Yeah.

05:17.35

Rader Lane

Yeah, absolutely yeah, you know, international dark sky week is the twenty second through the thirtieth and it’s really just ah, a great way to.

05:34.46

Rader Lane

You know, showcase pristine night skies and national parks talk about light pollution and it’s all spearheaded by the International Dark Sky Association based down in Tucson who have helped national parks and communities like Flagstaff. Become certified as international dark sky parks and international dark sky communities sort of ah ah, a growing list of sort of the last remaining sanctuaries of true pristine dark skies in the United States and beyond.

06:05.62

Hailey

And this kind of leads me into my question that I’ve got for you. Um, so we live in a dark sky community here in Flagstaff so we know like most of the basics but ah for those who are unfamiliar, could you tell us exactly what a dark sky community is and Grand Canyon being a dark Sky Park what’s the difference between the two, like are there different requirements?

06:33.94

Rader Lane

Sure yeah, there are slightly different requirements and basically it’s part of the international dark sky communities and dark Sky Parks certifications are under the larger umbrella of the international dark sky places program. Um. From the International Dark Sky Association and basically it’s these are a set of certifications that communities or parks can get when they’ve demonstrated ah one that they have pristine dark skies two that they’ve taken action depending on you know whether you’re a park or community will dictate what type of action is required ah but that you’ve taken action to protect the dark skies and that’s usually through retrofitting a series of lights in the community or the park to be dark sky-friendly. And then 3 to have ongoing outreach programs talking about light pollution talking about pristine night skies and the stars and showing it to visitors. So when it comes to Grand Canyon, our international dark sky park sort of application process took several years because it was really unprecedented in scale. We hired a light lighting inventory specialist. Grand Canyon Conservancy, our nonprofit partner, hired this specialist back in 2013 to inventory all of the lights in the park and she astonishingly.

08:16.21

Cody

Wow.

08:20.75

Rader Lane

Inventoried five thousand ninety four lights in this park and when it comes to you know and a national park. You know that’s really unprecedented in scale and you know the park was already dark. We had taken night sky quantified night sky measurements with.

08:23.32

Cody

Wow.

08:23.58

Hailey

Wow.

08:38.88

Rader Lane

Our science and resource management team and the part the night sky was already pristine here but taking those 5094 lights and seeing which ones we actually needed to change out to make the park even darker. Was a crucial part of this process to keep the park dark and it turns out that about 33% or so of those lights needed to be retrofit to be either. You know by retrofit I mean putting a full shield on it or.

08:58.75

Cody

Yeah.

09:13.46

Rader Lane

Changing out the bulb to be a little bit warmer in in in Kelvin’s or putting on a motion sensor or just getting rid of it all together. So we went around and we had a prescription for every single light in the park and changed out. You know.

09:33.10

Rader Lane

33% of these lights so that all told was about 1500 or so lights initially to become a dark sky park and so we’re basically the early criteria was to make 67% of these lights dark sky friendly.

09:36.62

Cody

Wow.

09:50.63

Rader Lane

We accomplished that in 2019 and the goal now is to make 100% of the lights dark sky-friendly in the next in the next few years and so it’s it’s it’s really just ah like I said this is the only national park in the entire country with a k through 12 school inside its orders you know there’s a basically a community of up to 3000 people who live here in the height of the summer so while we’re in international dark sky park in a lot of ways we’re also an international dark sky community and in terms of.

10:10.77

Cody

Mhm.

10:27.98

Rader Lane

How many lights we actually retrofit to make this happen I can’t think of any other park or really ah communities in that matter that have changed the amount of lights we have in such a short amount of time say again.

10:37.70

Cody

Um, and you live there as well, right? 

10:46.50

Rader Lane

I do and actually ah, it’s really funny because you know international dark sky parks unlike communities you know don’t have to go through nearly as much sort of zoning and you know talking with town councils and things to get these large-scale retrofits to happen I mean we’re we’re a community but we’re also sort of run as a national park so it was really quite impressive to see that one day or basically over a couple weeks in the summer of 2019 once we got all of the lights prepared to be retrofit. You know, just over a couple week period ah they were all retrofit so just every single person’s you know, light in their house. You know in the front of their house in the back of their house many of the lights in the historic district. You know, just. Almost like the snap of the finger were all replaced and I like to think that when I stepped outside of my little cabin here on the rim of the canyon and bumped into a ladder seeing a um, a maintenance gentleman retrofitting my light I like to think that that was the last.

11:59.25

Rader Lane

Light that we needed to, you know, bridge that 67% gap designation and so that’s exactly what happened, I walked out and my light was being changed and it was like that for the whole park. So was it’s really like yeah it was it was great

12:12.74

Kevin

Good timing. Rader what was what was the original impetus to um, make Grand Canyon a dark sky park and you know the changing of the lights was pretty rapid but when did the process start. How long did it take you to get to that point in 2019?

12:30.95

Rader Lane

Great question, Kevin. Like the I think people would say that about 2013 when Grand Canyon Conservancy got quite a large donation from the Joe Orr Foundation. Joe Orr was ah an amateur astronomer here who came up and participated in the star party. He donated ah a lot of money when he passed to.

12:59.33

Rader Lane

Specifically to the dark sky initiative I think for Grand Canyon and I think that was the catalyst to really get this going but the truth is there’s been night sky rangers starting back in the late 90’s that had the vision of turning Grand Canyon into an international dark Sky Park the The whole international dark sky place program really took off back in 2001 with Flagstaff Arizona being the first international not just international dark sky community but international dark sky place under that program and very soon after that there were night sky rangers in the park service who were, who had their eye on changing or making many of these national parks international dark sky parks and so there was actually initial measurements taken by a team in the national park service. You wouldn’t believe it, but there’s an actual division called the natural sounds and night skies division in the national parks which is like the coolest you know division to work in and they basically go around and they quantify the darkness of national park sites and.

14:05.50

Cody

Wow.

14:13.80

Rader Lane

Do all sorts of other things but they were taking measurements here as early as 2007 and so I would say that the real catalyst started with about 2013 so it was a good 6 years to get this thing, this big ship turned around to become a dark sky park.

14:48.41

Kevin

And I was wondering Rader, how long have you been at the Canyon? That you would care to admit.

14:49.17

Rader Lane

Absolutely.

14:56.37

Rader Lane

I I started at 2 in 2010 so yeah I think I have a few more stalagmites and stalactites than most of the other rangers here.

15:05.52

Cody

Ha ha.

15:07.54

Kevin

So and what drew you first to dark skies? Was it your position at the canyon that you kind of grew into becoming an advocate or were you interested before that?

15:17.89

Rader Lane

Yeah, you know I’ve I’ve always sort of been an amateur astronomer growing up and um and then when I jumped into the national parks I mean simply in virtue of. Living under these pristine night skies for the last twelve years in this and various other national parks. Ah, it’s sort of like whether you want to or not you start to become intimate with the nature of the night skies. I happened to you know, have been a fan of it prior to that and so sort of came in knowing that I wanted to focus in on night skies and night sky preservation. 

17:11.30

Cody

And I’m curious, so you know there are all of these regulations. There was someone who came by and counted all of the lights. Um, who decides that a national park, like first of all what criteria it would take to meet this designation? And like who’s making this decision that like this is what a park needs to do to become a dark sky park.

17:36.10

Rader Lane

Well, that’s a great question because it you know it makes us have to look at sort of the nature of the park itself. You know Grand Canyon sits at seven thousand feet you know eight thousand feet on the north rim on the colorado plateau you know, high above a good portion of the atmosphere. You know, much like Flagstaff much like Lowell Observatory in the dry desert southwest. I mean that’s the whole reason why Lowell Observatory exists here and you know if there were no light pollution anywhere else.

18:07.30

Cody

Were her.

18:14.10

Rader Lane

You know if all else was equal, say all the light pollution was gone off of the face of North America, the Colorado plateau in this region here would still have a sharpness of starlight that is unparalleled throughout most of the United States because of the elevation and the climate.

18:33.89

Rader Lane

And you know so that becomes really apparent when you visit here at night that it’s just a sharp crisp starlight and amateur astronomers advocates. You know through the years realize this pretty quickly.

18:45.29

Cody

Mhm.

18:53.83

Rader Lane

And basically what happens is you make a recommendation to the International Dark Sky Association once word gets out that this is a really good candidate for a dark sky park, the park gets on board. The nonprofit partner gets on board. And then somebody makes an official recommendation to the International Dark Sky Association and that also involves in that sort of first part of the process to quantify the darkness of a night sky and we’re actually able to do that using devices like a.

19:30.78

Rader Lane

Ah, sky quality meter as it’s called and that’s basically um, it’s it’s it’s an and it enables you to quantify the darkness. So the International Dark Sky Association has sort of like a minimum ah number that you have to reach.

19:49.60

Rader Lane

In order to be a candidate for a dark sky park and our initial measurements just showed that you know yeah we’re not only meeting the minimum requirements I mean we’re approaching near pristine dark skies, like virtually no light pollution so we were just a great candidate both geographically and.

20:01.57

Cody

Mhm.

20:09.54

Rader Lane

Um, and then in terms of the management of the park as well.

20:13.12

Hailey

So you mentioned that the Colorado Plateau was kind of like a really good site. Um, do you know what other national parks are considered to be international dark sky parks?

20:25.39

Rader Lane

Yeah, you know the world’s first international dark sky park under this certification was Natural Bridges National Monument up in Utah up here on the colorado plateau certified back in I believe around 2007 so you have natural bridges sort of leading the charge and if you’ve never been to Natural Bridges. It is a level of darkness that just sort of blows the mind. It’s the fragile night sky phenomena that you can see with your naked eye and Natural Bridges is just simply sublime and they realize that pretty early on and so they became the first international dark sky park. That was followed by other parks like Death Valley National Park, Big Bend National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and many other parks along ah ah on the Colorado Plateau quickly joined the ranks of international dark sky parks and now there’s I mean dozens and dozens of. Dark sky parks in just the national parks itself I mean that’s not to include state parks and national forests and other land management agencies communities and things like that that have certified themselves so all told there’s well over one hundred international dark sky places.

21:58.82

Hailey

Wow, That’s incredible.

21:59.45

Rader Lane

At this point in time. Yeah.

22:00.62

Kevin

I hate to say I hate to say our favorite one is the Grand Canyon but our favorite one is The Grand Canyon these areas so when visitors ask you you know where’s a good place in the canyon to see the night sky. Where do you direct them to.

22:07.23

Rader Lane

Um, well.

22:07.25

Cody

Um, yeah.

22:16.86

Rader Lane

Um, well, you know the truth is really anywhere away from the direct light sources in the historic village and say the visitor center but you’re right Kevin I mean I I agree this this is my favorite international dark sky park as well because it’s like there’s some added profundity to the idea of standing on the rim of The Grand Canyon at night because there’s nowhere else on nocturnal Earth you really have so much deep time revealed beneath you and stone and above you and star at the same time and you’re sort of stuck right in the middle of this deep time going both directions and even though you can’t see down into the gorge you know at night you can certainly feel its presence. Especially if you visit it during the day and so there’s just something incredibly profound about.

23:05.92

Kevin

Oh yes.

23:14.26

Rader Lane

Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon at night and so for me I try to get people up and experience that especially if they’ve seen the canyon by day you know, go up to Mather Point behind the visitor center is all you would need to do walk 5 minutes up from the parking lot to the rim of the Grand Canyon. And sort of feel the presence of that deep time beneath you and look up and see you know, the night sky phenomena that that virtually nobody can see anymore in the United States I mean a lot a lot of people say the whole, sort of speaking. The phrase that people use is 80% of people in the United States Today cannot see the Milky Way from their homes and I like to think.

24:07.45

Kevin

Mhm.

24:11.90

Rader Lane

I think to myself and I try to share with visitors. You know that’s true, but a crazier thing to think about is by the time the Milky Way disappears. There’s actually another level of incredibly fragile night Sky Phenomena that have long disappeared by the time the Milky Way has threatened to be disappeared. We’re talking about. You know the andromeda Galaxy we’re talking about air Glow and the the Gegan Shine and the Zodiacal Light and you know you know visible patches of of Nebula and clusters that are so utterly fragile and our ancestors used to pride themselves on being able to see not limited by light pollution. Simply limited by the limits of human biology I mean our nocturnal eye biology I mean that’s.

25:03.22

Cody

Mhm.

25:07.24

Rader Lane

So there’s this very thin layer of of enchantment in the night sky that disappears in the slightest bit of light pollution and so I always try to remind people of that the Milky Way is this.

25:26.21

Rader Lane

You know, sort of like the charismatic megafauna of the night sky and everybody wants to see the galactic core and it’s this beautiful thing to see but um, yeah to be able to see these other ah specter-like ghost-like fragile night sky phenomenon ah.

25:45.29

Rader Lane

That disappear before that is just is incredible and that’s those are the type of things we try to protect up here.

25:51.41

Kevin

And you’re right about the magic of the canyon where time and space you I don’t know where else you can go. There are other places but that many places where you can go that really capture the essence of time and space and then like you were mentioning. We think of our ancestors down in the canyon looking up the same sky, the same darkness and what they saw and what they imagined um is special because it’s like you’re a time traveler you’re going back in time. You’re also looking forward in time as you as you look at the sky and I think you know with the Grand Canyon um somebody that’s captured that concept I think um, Tyler Nordgren who did as postdoc here at Lowell Observatory and of course you’ve worked with him very much. He’s written books about um, protecting dark skies and did a a book about um, dark skies in the national parks.

26:32.45

Rader Lane

Yes.

26:47.62

Rader Lane

Yeah, yeah, yes.

26:49.47

Kevin

And I think he’s the one that coined the term half the park is after dark because there’s yeah, Great to see during the day of course, but my gosh at night. It’s like a it’s like a 2 for 1 deal. Like yeah, you came here to see the canyon during the day but it’s mesmerizing at nighttime.

27:01.79

Cody

Haha.

27:08.78

Rader Lane

Um, and there’s an interplay of of that deep time that is is incredibly profound. You were mentioning you know looking down being down inside the Grand Canyon and looking up at the night sky and sometimes I I like to think to myself.

27:28.60

Rader Lane

When you’re at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and you’re amongst 2000000000 year old Vishnu Schist basement rock and you touch that rock you know and you look up at the night sky if you were to reverse time back to when that rock was formed. You know most of the stars in the night sky above you disappear. You know how the the rock itself is is more ancient than most of the the immediate stars in our vicinity and so you know even being able to think about that type of that type of interplay I mean even the youngest rock layer at Grand Canyon for example

28:01.58

Kevin

Mhm.

28:05.84

Rader Lane

270000000 year old kaibab limestone I mean since that rock was laid down, deposited on the North American Landscape, I mean we’ve done it just over 1 revolution around the galaxy. You know it’s like it’s it’s.

28:18.16

Cody

Mhm.

28:21.79

Rader Lane

I love just thinking about these different ways that the night sky and the the Earth um interact with each other and that’s ah, that’s a theme that comes from ah ah a deep understanding of the sky and the earth from some of the indigenous peoples of the landscape ah like the Diné like the Navajo people who have a very intimate connection with both Father Sky and Mother Earth as they call it in their tradition. So it’s just it’s just a joy to be able to think about the different aspects of deep time here at the canyon.

28:54.93

Cody

And you said something um that I can personally attest to is how many people haven’t seen the Milky Way or anything like that I I actually just moved here from Houston not too long ago just a few years ago and

29:04.32

Hailey

Yeah.

29:14.43

Cody

You couldn’t even see Orion or and I mean you couldn’t see any of the stars at night. It was like living in a globe and the first time I witnessed it was as an adult I went to Big Bend National Park which I don’t know Rader if you’ve been to that one? Um, it is you think.

29:18.30

Rader Lane

Mhm. 

29:33.90

Cody

Crazy remote. It’s so hard to get to which I think is an advantage to the Grand Canyon because you’ve got that history and you’ve got these beautiful pristine dark skies but it’s also easy to access for a lot of people. Um the amount of work you have to go through to get to those.

29:35.33

Rader Lane

Yeah.

29:48.00

Rader Lane

Yes.

29:53.00

Cody

That kind of park usually is like with the Big Bend you’re talking. Ah you know it’s maybe 5 hours to the closest airport from the edge of the camp from the edge of the park. So but the first time I saw it it was ah horrific like I was.

30:04.75

Rader Lane

Right? Well in.

30:11.28

Cody

Just crying I mean just seeing the stars I couldn’t I had to leave Houston which is how I actually got here. So.

30:16.24

Rader Lane

Well, there’s there’s 3 points I want to make there one is you’re absolutely right I mean Grand Canyon, I see this as such a great opportunity because there’s really no other place I can think of that has such infrastructure and accessibility.

30:32.90

Cody

Yes.

30:33.47

Rader Lane

Yet also maintains its pristine natural darkness to the degree That Grand Canyon does because you have parks like Big Bend which are incredibly dark but superremote or you have parks that are incredibly accessible.

30:42.92

Cody

Mhm. 

30:47.80

Rader Lane

But they are you know light polluted to a certain extent. So the the relationship between those 2 ah aspects makes Grand Canyon I feel like it should be the worldwide hub of dark sky outreach and preservation being able to share about the threats of light pollution.

30:48.41

Cody

Mhm.

31:01.65

Cody

For sure.

31:06.73

Rader Lane

Um, the other thing I wanted to mention with what you said there was you know your idea of seeing the Milky Way for the first time coming from Houston ah, it’s I always love hearing those stories because you know part of the.

31:26.68

Rader Lane

Certification process in understanding is of course understanding how dark our dark skies are and 1 criteria you can use to figure that out is a scale known as the boardal scale and it’s a subjective scale. It goes from. Boardal what’s called borderal nine to boardal one boardal nine means you’re in downtown Las Vegas you know and being able to see maybe 1 star border one is you know you’re in the middle of the pacific ocean and it’s pristine and.

31:50.67

Cody

Oh.

32:00.15

Rader Lane

Each it’s a dichotomous key so every scale like when you go from 9 to 8 to 7 to 6 it’s asking you a series of questions that is letting you know how dark your sky is and when you get down to the boardal two and boardal one area. There’s a couple of really interesting criteria that the boardal scale uses to determine how dark your sky is you know and I’m saying this with keeping in mind that most people like we said can’t even see the Milky Way.

32:23.25

Cody

Mhm.

32:33.18

Rader Lane

But when you’re in a boardal class 2 site. The criteria is something like the Milky Way, the center of the Milky Way Galaxy shows detailed structure and.

32:47.74

Rader Lane

What they mean by that is that you’re looking at the Sagitarius Star Cloud you’re looking at the Scootum Star Cloud you’re looking at Prancing Horse you know you’re looking at the Cygnus Dark Rift. These are these are this is the anatomy of the Milky Way that our ancestors were.

32:55.72

Cody

Yeah, yeah.

33:04.43

Rader Lane

Familiar with enough to have given names to you know parts of the center of the Milky Way galaxy distinct enough to be to be given names and then the boardal 1 site says that on a moonless summer night.

33:06.70

Cody

Yeah.

33:23.44

Rader Lane

The center of the Milky Way Galaxy should be bright enough to cast your shadow and yeah up here at the Grand Canyon you can you can you can wave your it’s It’s like.

33:28.13

Cody

What.

33:32.97

Hailey

Whoa.

33:39.84

Rader Lane

Not going to be like moonlight but you can wave your hand in front of your other hand and see it moving from the starlight of the center of the Milky Way and that said in the context of 80% of people no longer can even see the Milky Way.

33:55.76

Cody

Ugh. 

33:57.74

Rader Lane

Sort of gives us an idea of just what we’re missing out on and and just that we’re the first generation first few generations in the history of humanity to miss out on that and so that’s kind of these are these are the type of sort of emotional connections that I tried to.

34:11.27

Cody

Mhmm. 

34:17.50

Rader Lane

That that spur me on to try to help do what I can to limit light pollution at least in this park.

34:22.35

Cody

Yeah I mean it was shocking. It was like I had never fathomed that you could see those many stars with your with your naked eye just looking up. Um, and I mean I got dizzy I mean it was just like seeing that was it was so much to take in. If you’ve never seen that with your own eyes before like your entire adult life I think I was like 27 um and hadn’t seen that at all as an adult and it’s really something special.

34:50.40

Rader Lane

Well well and you said you said ah a little bit ago when you were describing how you saw the Milky Way for the first time you almost slipped and you said it was horrifying and this is whoa. That’s.

34:54.38

Hailey

That’s crazy. 

35:04.33

Cody

And it was horrifying I was shook.

35:10.90

Rader Lane

But that. What you said there is fantastic because this is something I like to talk about as well is that you know it is kind of scary There is a a a fear factor when it comes to being able to see the profundity of the night skies and you know our ancestors knew very well what this feeling was they called it sublimity and sublimity in the historical context of that word is a mixture of awe and terror at the profundity of nature and you know.

35:34.12

Cody

Hmm.

35:42.47

Cody

Yeah.

35:48.29

Rader Lane

It’s even these subtle emotions of being able to experience all which is something um experience sublimity which is something that you kind of experience when you look at the Grand Canyon by day. Ah, but to be able to confront the you know because we’re the we’re the first.

35:57.92

Cody

Mhm. 

36:06.52

Rader Lane

1 of the first generations in the history of humanity to confront the aesthetic power of the night skies whilst also knowing it’s you know it’s terrifying extent. You know the universe is a lot smaller to people two hundred years ago and now that we know you know just how large of a universe we live in. You know we’re we’re we’re coupling that with looking at the awesome aesthetics of the night sky and so we really have a great opportunity to um to experience some very profound emotions and connections. Um, with our natural world that people in the past simply couldn’t have done largely thanks to places like Lowell Observatory who have you know, given us the understanding of the scale of the universe. Yet we’re also paradoxically you know the first.

37:05.34

Rader Lane

Generation to veil ourselves from that knowledge. So it’s kind of like and we have this incredible opportunity that we’re squandering away with light pollution.

37:44.52

Cody

Let’s get into light pollution and how it’s harmful. Like we at the observatory. We totally get.

37:51.98

Rader Lane

Yeah, yeah.

38:03.37

Cody

How light pollution sucks because we can’t research. We can’t study. We can’t see anything which is why it’s so great that we have um, you know our dark sky city here in Flagstaff and I’m curious, um at the Grand Canyon, how is it harmful in ways other than stargazing?

38:23.95

Rader Lane

Well the ah, yeah exactly. So it’s harmful, not only for star gazing but it’s harmful for ah the economy I mean it’s it’s not very economically feasible to waste, light pollution, ah waste light into the sky. It’s estimated somewhere over 30% of commercial lighting in the United States is shot directly up into the atmosphere doing nothing to help us see better at night and doing everything to block our view of the skies. Um, and that’s that’s equal to about $3000000000 a year and.

39:03.40

Rader Lane

You know finite resources where we’re just shooting up into the atmosphere. Ah, it’s harmful on the scale of human health I mean we’re we’re all understanding now that I mean that light pollution is effectively a you know carcinogen. You know it. It. It is linked to cancers, obesity, depressions, anxieties, things like that. So we’re understanding that half our lives. You know, supposed to be spent in in darkness when we’re sleeping and in.

39:27.10

Cody

Mhm.

39:39.70

Rader Lane

So that’s another thing and then particularly you know coming from a national park standpoint. You know the ecology ah of the national park and the natural world in general is threatened by light pollution. A lot of people tend to use the, you know, some of the more charismatic animals ah like sea turtles. For example, we might have heard of the idea that you know on the on the East Coast places like this sea turtles are incredibly affected by light pollution when they hatch on the beach. You know. In a light pollution-free environment. They would typically head towards the ocean water where the moon and the stars are reflecting off the ocean and the brightness of the stars and the sky upon the ocean is what’s attracting them to the waters and now there’s.

40:31.52

Cody

Yeah.

40:33.49

Rader Lane

Light polluted sky domes that are attracting them inland they’re getting run over by cars and things like that and that’s ah, that’s a fantastic example to use and but for Grand Canyon I think one of the the aspects I focus on more are sort of these these. Larger scale sort of phenological and population shifts that we’re seeing in some of the species that are more of the ecological nuts and bolts of a given system I mean to say insects you know birds. For example.

41:03.75

Cody

Mhm.

41:10.65

Rader Lane

You know the whole idea of moths gathering around an artificial light at night is is not is not a natural thing. It’s that’s very unnatural and they’re dying of exhaustion. They’re being picked off by predators.

41:18.47

Cody

Right? yeah.

41:19.31

Hailey

Mhm.

41:27.15

Rader Lane

And we’re seeing and just starting to understand the implications of what scientists are now calling an insect apocalypse that’s occurring largely at night. I mean it’s it’s something of 50% of our insects on the planet are nocturnal and when.

41:37.30

Cody

Poor babies.

41:37.99

Hailey

Aw.

41:45.92

Rader Lane

We’re messing with their habits and things like that with these artificial lights at night we’re really doing damage and that’s that’s also to to include our bird populations as well, where hundreds and hundreds of millions of birds are dying every year by running into buildings.

42:04.72

Rader Lane

And being attracted by artificial light at night in cities and things like that. You know when they when they lit up the, they did a study in New York City when they lit up the the lights for the twin towers that that that homage of light. Ah.

42:18.29

Cody

Mhm.

42:24.11

Rader Lane

In that general area. There was about 500 birds that would frequent that general area where they lit the lights up into the sky and mere minutes after they lit up those lights. It attracted something like 15000 birds to the same area and um.

42:38.34

Hailey

Wow.

42:38.92

Cody

Wow jeez.

42:43.20

Rader Lane

And so there’s groups that are picking up birds off of you know they walk the mornings around buildings and they pick up dead birds and collect them just to show that this is this is an incredibly.

42:56.34

Cody

Mhm. 

42:56.58

Rader Lane

Detrimental effect ah to our bird populations and so those those larger scale sort of phenological shifts that we’re seeing in these populations is what’s really concerning me when it comes to light pollution and ecology.

43:14.52

Hailey

We were talking about like the negative effects of not having dark skies and everything. Um, but I do want to ask about. Ah, dark sky programs things that could help and um I heard about one called the astronomer in residence program and I was wondering if you could explain what that is.

43:44.16

Rader Lane

Sure so the astronomer residence program was conceived a few years ago and it’s based off of the artist in residence program which is established in many national parks and other entities around the world. Ah, where you have an artist say come to a park live as a residence in the park for a certain period of time and then produce artwork in their medium based off of the resources that they have immersed themselves in and we kind of had the idea to come up with.

44:15.96

Cody

Mhm. 

44:21.35

Rader Lane

A similar program that was more focused in on the night skies itself. So the astronomer in residence program here at Grand Canyon which is the first of its kind in the national parks is is is not is. It’s a catchall phrase. You don’t really have to be an astronomer.

44:38.76

Rader Lane

You can be and we certainly do have astronomers come, but it’s a catch-all phrase for astronomers, educators writers artists performing and visual to come to Grand Canyon live at the park for their residency and. Produce content that is focused in on the night skies itself and so we thought by focusing in on the night skies yet allowing for multiple disciplines to come in and study it that will get a really beautiful holistic look at.

45:02.37

Cody

Wow. 

45:16.54

Rader Lane

Why night skies are really important to preserve not just from the astronomer point of view but from the astrophotographer’s point of view, from the musician’s point of view, from a poet. So so like I said I mean our our next astronomer residence who’s gonna be coming here in the end of April is her name’s Emma Burerra and she is a world-renowned astro photographer who’s going to be spending her residency simply photographing the night skies and then sharing that content with the public whereas our next astronomer in residence coming in August is an American poet and she’s going to come and.

45:54.35

Rader Lane

Sit under the night skies for her residency and come up with poetry about her experience under pristine darkness and so ah, that’s the whole idea behind the program which has been graciously funded by Grand Canyon conservancy our nonprofit partner and we’re we’ve we’ve had 2 Dr. Tyler Nordgren who we mentioned earlier was the first inaugural astronomer resident and then we had Dean Riguez, another astronomer from the Cincinnati Observatory and they mainly did outreach programs interacting with the public. But it’s a very diverse and exciting program and the applicants so far have really have really expressed and reflected I should say the spirit of the program and so we’re really excited to continue this um in in future years and our 2023 applications are going to be opening up sometime very soon here in the summer for that here.

46:54.18

Hailey

That’s awesome.

46:56.39

Rader Lane

Yeah, super exciting. It’s really exciting and like I said it’s just so diverse. Yeah I wish I could go on and on about the type of applicants who have applied here. But we’ve already got a really really diverse array of applicants and so that’s just 1.

46:56.45

Cody

That’s awesome. That’s really cool.

47:14.45

Rader Lane

1 program that Grand Canyon National Park is trying to include into this whole broader set of programs underneath our dark sky’s outreach and our dark sky outreach program in general and so that’s. You know that the astronomer residence program sits side by side with the Grand Canyon star party and with a few other programs that we have planned for the future to again make this you know the largest most complex international dark sky park in the world and the hub for dark sky outreach. You know, worldwide.

47:48.37

Cody

Well speaking of dark sky outreach, obviously it’s international dark sky week. April twenty second to the thirtieth. Do you guys have any special events or any way that we can celebrate with the Grand Canyon?

48:02.87

Rader Lane

You know we are doing some collaboration work with Lowell Observatory with all you. So we’re really excited. We’re really excited I don’t know they’re kind of a cool observatory south of us. Ah, we ah.

48:08.88

Cody

Oh who are they?

48:10.80

Hailey

Hey hey.

48:15.32

Cody

Oh interesting. Ah.

48:19.64

Rader Lane

We love working with you guys. So we’re really excited to collaborate there. We’re gonna have. Ah yeah, we’re gonna have some obviously just a push in our social media content on how to best preserve the night skies we’re getting ready and at the very end of dark sky week to get our.

48:20.81

Cody

Um, ah super stoked.

48:38.47

Rader Lane

Um, astronomer residents on board here. So she’s going to be jumping on right at the tail end there and then just here on site at the park, I mean what we like to do is for everybody visiting during that week is really just get them outside at night to enjoy the beautiful weather that’s going on in Northern Arizona right now and. And the pristine skies over Crain Canyon so we’re doing a lot of onsite sort of outreach for the people here because at the end of the day you know we want people just to have that experience.

49:09.90

Kevin

You know what’s great about that is, you know, we think of places that are dark skies areas like Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon of course and then we think of places like you mentioned Las Vegas and Phoenix that there is a lot of of light pollution but Arizona governor Doug Ducey

49:28.51

Kevin

Declared made a declaration that this was you know astronomy week. So even in a place that has a lot of bright lights. There’s this awareness that is important um to celebrate this and so I think we’re all looking forward to um you know working with you and seeing not only for. For this particular week but moving forward how we continue to preserve the night sky and I think we’re we’re going to be winding down here but kind of in that vein you know for folks listening at home. Um, what can they do? Um, you know, based on your experience. What can they do to help make their city a dark skies ah, community.

50:05.81

Rader Lane

Yeah, the this effort is 1 of the more grassroots efforts I’ve ever seen when it comes to an ecological problem and I’ve seen regular folks like you and me you know. Turn their communities into international dark sky communities just through the passion just through wanting to to get it done and so I mean on a smaller scale within your own household or your own neighborhood, it’s really just inventorying your own lights. You know, doing a double take, of how important that light is you know establish if you establish whether you need the light at all and if you do find that you need it try to try to make sure that you’re lighting only what you need and nothing else and so that’s putting a full shield on your fixture and lighting only the ground that needs to be lit and so that’s that’s one important point because you know this movement isn’t about getting rid of all the lights on the planet and you know throwing us back to the stone age. It’s about smarter lighting, so lighting only what you need when you need it with just the just the amount of brightness that you need nothing more and with warmer color bulbs you know on that Amber Redder side of the spectrum. Ah, to be able to preserve your night vision and the night vision of other nocturnal creatures. So. It’s really just taking an inventory of your own community. Ah your own household, your own community and then getting involved with your town council. Talking with your town council about how you know how we might rezone the community to you know include some lighting ordinances to be dark sky friendly and this is you know a win-win-win win situation.

52:09.73

Cody

Mhm.

52:10.97

Rader Lane

Across the board and it’s just it’s just a matter of outreach at this point you know. It’s just like 80% of people can’t see the Milky Way from their house and only one percent of people actually know what the problem of light pollution is and so it’s really just a matter of getting the word out.

52:20.86

Cody

And I almost am afraid to brag about this because um house house prices are decently high in Flagstaff so please don’t move here but come visit. Um, the first house I lived in in Flagstaff I was walking out at night to put my trash away and I was stumbling down the driveway and ran into my mailbox. Um and this was down like in a very populated neighborhood.

52:57.25

Cody

5 minutes from the observatory I just and again like ah my eyes were not used to such dark skies but they do such a good job of like having, like the yellow street lights that are pointed downward which makes sense because you don’t need to see up in the sky to drive right? It’s on the street which.

53:13.95

Rader Lane

Right.

53:16.50

Cody

That checks out. Um, but it’s so amazing to be able to walk out on your driveway and literally see the Milky Way from your house with your porch light on. You know I mean obviously the porch lights are also special and that kind of thing. But um, it’s a very unique place.

53:25.69

Rader Lane

Yeah flag so Flagstaff is the model for this. How to do this right? and so I would second that I would say go please go visit Flagstaff if you’re not from there and.

53:41.35

Cody

Mhm.

53:44.29

Rader Lane

And enjoy that idea where it’s not like you say not a mutually exclusive situation. We have the ability to make our world one where we can light up all the paths that we need in our cities yet also be able to look up and see the Milky Way.

54:01.23

Rader Lane

And so that that that is a possible world that we can live in and so it’s just it’s just about us all rallying together and getting something like this done because light pollution really is one of the easier types of pollution to clean up when it comes to all the big problems that we’re facing in the world.

54:18.10

Rader Lane

This is one of those easy ones we should be able to tick off of the list and it’s kind of a proof, proof of concept that we’re able to rally together and do something on large scales like this. So um, yeah, yeah, think of the moths, for crying out loud.

54:29.60

Cody

Think think of the moths think of the moths. Well we are insanely. We are already at time. In fact, over the time that we allotted on our schedule today. So I’m sorry that we ran a little late.

54:47.74

Rader Lane

No worries.

54:48.74

Cody

Rader but thank you so much for joining us on this podcast and talking about dark skies. I’m really hoping we can convince you to come back and talk about maybe the geology of the canyon or something fun like that.

55:01.81

Rader Lane

Absolutely anytime you guys will have me back I would be happy to participate. Thank you so much. This has been really fun.

55:10.92

Hailey

Yeah, totally and ah for all of our listeners out there who have stuck with us through this really awesome episode I just want to remind you guys that if you have any questions about anything. We asked today or anything ah about.

55:11.87

Cody

Yay.

55:28.19

Hailey

Space in general, go ahead and use our hashtag #askstarstuff and go ahead and also check out our Twitter and Discord Channel you can ask us questions there. We also share some fun content there. So yeah, definitely hit us up.

55:45.62

Cody

And um Rader where can we ask questions of you online. Do you have a Twitter machine or an Instagram where we can?

55:54.73

Rader Lane

You know I don’t have those for better or worse. But I am infinitely available if you go to the night sky’s web page at Grand Canyon and ah.

56:14.40

Rader Lane

My contact information should be on there and I yeah please reach out for any questions.

56:15.38

Cody

Um, awesome, awesome! Well thank you so much and you know thanks Kevin also for joining us for this one. We’ll let you get back to your celebrity schedule.

56:26.11

Kevin

Yeah right. Well this has been great. It’s great talking with your Rader and um I look forward to our next visit up at the canyon yeah see what trouble we can get into.

56:28.34

Hailey

Yeah, ah.

56:29.39

Rader Lane

You see.

56:35.48

Rader Lane

Um, yeah, it’s been too long I really look forward to it. Kevin yeah, exactly.

56:40.87

Cody

Lots.

56:41.44

Hailey

Yeah.