The women mapping the Mojave’s dark night skies

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WISDOM interns discovered the darkest spot in the western portion of Mojave Trails National Monument. A new group is continuing that quest for the entire monument.

Night Sky as seen in Piute Mountain Wilderness within Mojave Trails National Monument. Note the Milk Way’s prominence juxtaposed with the sky glow from the town of Needles. Photo: MDLT

By Mary Cook-Rhyne, MDLT Education Coordinator and program manager of the Women in Science Discovering Our Mojave (WISDOM) program.

Research by WISDOM interns has reminded us how beautifully dark the night sky is out in the western part of Mojave Trails National Monument. In the continuation of the Dark Night Sky Measurement Project, three new interns have picked up where the last group left off — well, in a way.

Mojave Trails National Monument spans a whopping 1.6 million acres of public land and is the largest monument in the contiguous United States. It is managed by the Bureau of Land Management to ensure the biological diversity of the landscape while protecting recreational and traditional uses of the land. Mojave Trails contains natural features like basalt mountain ranges, volcanic plugs, sand dunes, wilderness areas, beautiful open vistas, and significant cultural and historic sites.

Last fall a cohort of three college women began monitoring the night sky quality in the western portion of Mojave Trails. The next stage of the dark night sky survey project began in April 2021. May 11th marked our first overnight with the new female college students, this time monitoring night sky quality at eight locations within the eastern part of the National Monument.

Dark Night Sky Interns (from left) Lauren, Analisa, and Stacey, setting up tents in Trilobite Wilderness at 3:30 in the morning after field work! (We follow all social distancing guidelines.) Photo: Mary Cook-Rhyne

Our hope for this project is to help BLM secure a Dark Sky Sanctuary designation for the National Monument from the International Dark Sky Association. The designation would mean protection and conservation of the area’s dark night skies, while also allowing for education about their importance for flora and fauna. A designation will also promote greater visitation and bring the associated benefits of tourism to this region.

From left- Analisa Brown, Stacey Yoon, and Lauren Alba

The team consists of three women:

Analisa Brown grew up in the Coachella Valley and has made the desert her home for 53 years. She learned about the Dark Skies program through her Natural Resource class at College of the Desert and believed it to be the perfect opportunity to enrich her knowledge in the area of science and STEM. She’s grateful to be a part of the program that could help make Mojave Trails National Monument a dark skies sanctuary.

Lauren Alba was born and raised in Long Beach, CA. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Environmental Studies and Geography, she is driven to be an advocate for the environment, to help cultivate an interest in STEM in younger generations, and to pursue a career in sustainability and climate change policy.

Stacey Yoon spent much of her life in Orange County. She graduated with a bachelor’s in chemistry from UC Irvine, but quickly took an interest in programming after graduating. During her college career she joined different organizations and took on a few environmental internships where she learned more about sustainability and the impact of climate change. She hopes to someday gain enough experience in programming to join a nonprofit that is dedicated to helping the environment.

According to a June 2019 report from UNESCO, women comprise 29.3% of the world’s scientific researchers, though in some countries women are more represented in the science fields. For example, in Venezuela and Myanmar women hold 61.4% and 75.6% of the researching positions, respectively. WISDOM aims to help engage women in STEM fields by gaining knowledge and conducting scientific research, both in the field and in the office. The long-term goal of WISDOM is to increase understanding of not only environmental science and land management issues in the Mojave Desert, but to also provide women with opportunities to conduct that research. The program fosters an environment of mentorship and career exploration by connecting female students with researchers and professionals, helping to develop the next generation of scientists.

The interns will be sharing more stories about this project’s progress in the coming months. Stay tuned!

This internship program is made possible through funding from Southern California Edison International.

For the Night Sky project, we are participating in the Globe at Night and Loss of the Night citizen science programs. Why not join in? Our collective information can help our global community study light pollution around the world. One of the stops is right off interstate 40, near the Clipper Mountains. If you need a rest, just pull over and observe the stars from this dark spot!

https://www.globeatnight.org/

https://scistarter.org/loss-of-the-night

https://www.mdlt.org/citizenscience/

https://www.darksky.org/

https://www.blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/california/mojave-trails-national-monument

Dark sky data revealed for Mojave Trails National Monument