New data pinpoints dark skies above Mojave Trails National Monument

For immediate release
November 16, 2021
Contact: Jessica Dacey, Director of Communications
Phone: 760-820-2275
Email: jessica@mdlt.org

New data pinpoints dark skies above Mojave Trails National Monument

Mojave Trails National Monument – New night sky data shows Mojave Trails National Monument in the California desert may qualify as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary.

Interns with the Mojave Desert Land Trust’s Women In Science Discovering Our Mojave (WISDOM) program have concluded a year-long study of the night sky quality in the monument. Using a Sky Quality Meter and citizen science applications, the WISDOM interns measured brightness at 16 locations within the monument.

As part of the International Dark Sky Association’s qualification process, brightness measurements must be equal to or darker than 21.5 magnitudes per square arc second. A meter reading of 21.0 indicates a very dark site, while a reading of 16.0 indicates a light polluted sky. The data collected show that Mojave Trails National Monument can be placed in consideration as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary in almost all locations, as the average magnitudes per square arc second are over 21.5.

The darkest spot in the monument, on average, is at Camp Iron Mountain, a World War II Desert Training Center Camp used to prepare troops to fight in the North African campaign. The brightest spot in the monument is located in the Sheephole Valley Wilderness Area, west of Amboy Road and overlooking the American Chloride Mine.

Overall, just one location, Bagdad, measured lower than 21.0 magnitudes per square arc second, missing that mark by just 0.04 mags. (See graphic)

The eastern half of Mojave Trails National Monument measures darker than the western portion. However, the western portion is also more accessible to visitors. Afton Canyon Natural Area is home to the only developed campground in the entire monument and therefore, can be more easily visited. Measuring at 21.1 magnitudes per square arc second, Afton Canyon still offers exceptional night sky quality.

The WISDOM findings provide a new baseline of night sky quality data about the monument.

The study was intended to help the Bureau of Land Management in its effort to seek International Dark Sky Sanctuary recognition for the monument.

An International Dark Sky Association-recommended Sky Quality Meter (SQM) was used by the interns to record sky quality data. Zenith, temperature, weather, and visibility were also recorded. Additionally, photos were taken of the night sky using a Canon DSLR camera.

The Loss of the Night citizen science app was also used during the data collection sessions. It was created to accompany the Globe at Night project, which gathers information from community scientists throughout the world about the visibility of the night sky. More than 1,000 stars are visible at every location surveyed in the monument according to the Loss of the Night app. The Milky Way, shooting stars, and constellations can be seen throughout the monument.

“This data will be evaluated in connection to the monument’s future planning effort. It is important for the BLM to have the most up to date information. The WISDOM interns are providing that support”, said Noelle Glines-Bovio, manager of Mojave Trails National Monument.

To qualify as a Dark Sky Sanctuary the area must be public or private land, accessible to the public in part or whole, and legally protected for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment purposes. The site must provide an exceptional dark sky resource where the night sky brightness is routinely equal to or darker than 21.5 magnitudes per square arc second.

Dark Sky Sanctuaries are typically remote. Other sanctuaries include Massacre Rim in northwest Nevada, the Cosmic Campground in New Mexico, Great Barrier Island in New Zealand, and Gabriela Mistral in Chile.

Mojave Trails National Monument spans 1.6 million acres and borders Joshua Tree National Park in the south, which is currently a dark sky park. It is a vital ecological wildlife corridor that connects wilderness areas, and is a refuge for bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, fringe-toed lizards, bats, and migratory birds.

Artificial lighting affects species migration patterns, predator-prey relationships, and the circadian rhythms of most animals, including humans. However, light pollution is one of the most preventable and readily fixable forms of pollution.

“Thanks to the research of the WISDOM interns, we now have baseline data confirming the premise that Mojave Trails National Monument has some of the darkest skies in Southern California. Establishing the monument as a Dark Sky Sanctuary would mean the protection and conservation of the area’s dark night skies, while also allowing for education about their importance for desert flora and fauna”, said Michael Mora, MDLT director of outreach and public engagement.

Women in Science Discovering Our Mojave is an internship run by the Mojave Desert Land Trust in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management. It seeks to help engage women from underserved communities studying science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). WISDOM is made possible thanks to support from Southern California Edison International, Conservation Lands Foundation, and the Bureau of Land Management.

The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with the mission to protect and care for lands with natural, scenic, and cultural values within the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. To date, the Land Trust has conserved 102,209 acres and conveyed more tracts of land to the National Park Service than any other nonprofit since 2006. The Land Trust has established a seed bank to ensure the preservation of native species and operates an onsite nursery at its Joshua Tree headquarters which propagates native species for ecosystem restoration. MDLT educates and advocates for the conservation of the desert, involving hundreds of volunteers in our work. For more information, visit mdlt.org.

Note to editors:
Assets are available to download here
Graphic showing average SQM number per location.
Document with chart of each location UTM and SQM average
Figure 1 showing SQM average
Photograph of the night sky over Mojave Trails National Monument
Photograph of WISDOM intern Karina Jimenez measuring the zenith
Photograph of Afton Canyon in Mojave Trails National Monument