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The lure of the night: Northern Minnesota promotes its dark, starry skies

Sep 17, 2017 08:19AM ● Published by Editor

An alluring image of green streaks in a dark sky above Lake Superior glowed across digital billboards in Chicago, Kansas City and Denver this summer. “HAPPENING TONIGHT: NORTHERN LIGHTS,” the message read, crowned with an Explore Minnesota logo.

Northern Minnesota has long been known for its beautiful forests and pristine lakes. Now, marketers and preservationists are promoting an easy-to-spot but less-celebrated gem: its dark skies.

In an age when an estimated 80 percent of people in North America cannot see the Milky Way, obscured by artificial light, dark night skies are taking on new cultural significance. Leaders and advocates in northern Minnesota are seeing the dark not only as a potential boost to tourism, but to human and animal health as well. The digital billboards are just part of a growing movement to promote the state’s dark nights as well as preserve them by calling on governments, businesses and residents to curb light pollution.

In Cook County, tourism officials last year started marketing “Dark Sky Season,” promoting the Northern Lights and stargazing during the month of December.

This week in Duluth, Starry Skies Lake Superior, the local chapter of the International Dark Sky Association, is hosting its first “Celebrate the Night Sky Week,” with photography exhibits, readings and a seminar including the effects of light pollution. It follows an appeal to community leaders over the summer to designate areas as “night-sky friendly.”

“As people realize … this is an amazing resource, this is going to continue to grow,” said Randy Larson, coordinator of the event. “There’s huge opportunity for every community around us. … It’s just a matter of turning the lights down and turning them in a way that isn’t disruptive.”

Promoters partly credit social media for increasing the appreciation of dark skies, and science for providing a better ability to predict the chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

Timing is everything

“In a global sense, it’s getting pretty good,” said Bob Lysak, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota.

NASA satellites are now monitoring the sun, allowing scientists to see when it ejects a big blob of plasma. If the blob is headed toward Earth, it typically takes about two days to get here, Lysak said. Whether it produces Northern Lights depends on several factors, including the time of day, the location and the direction of the magnetic fields.

Northern Minnesota has been ranked by various groups as one of the best places to see Northern Lights in the Lower 48 states. Capitalizing on that, Explore Minnesota’s billboards were timed to run on days when the forecast for Northern Lights was especially good.

“Some of our most popular photos on our Instagram channel have been from our Northern Lights,” said Alyssa Hayes, of Explore Minnesota. “It’s so stunning. When you capture a really great photo of the Northern Lights, it’s a scroll stopper.”

At Visit Cook County, marketing manager Kjersti Vick pointed out that maps of light pollution show the Arrowhead region among the darkest in the country, especially east of the Mississippi River.

She said leaders there chose the month of December to promote Northern Lights and stargazing because the sky darkens early, giving people plenty of time to stare into space.

“Being able to look at the stars is one of our big things,” Vick said.

Human sensitivity

The Duluth event will also address the human and environmental cost of light pollution, taking into account everything from nocturnal animals to human circadian rhythms.

“I think the bottom line is that every place that people live is getting brighter and no place is getting darker,” said Paul Bogard, who wrote a book called “The End of Night” and who will be speaking at the Duluth event this week.

While nobody is asking for complete darkness in populated areas, lighting can be more effective and less harmful, advocates say, by using fixtures that point it downward, for instance, or using lights that are not as bright.

“It’s a huge waste of money. All the light that’s being sent up into the sky is just wasted light, wasted money, wasted energy,” Bogard pointed out. “People who have grown up in the last 30 or 40 years and have never left the city have no idea what a real night sky is supposed to look like. … They think a couple dozen stars is a starry night.”

Studying the effects of light on humans and animals has been a hot topic among scientists recently, too.

A research arm of the World Health Organization classified shift work with circadian disruption as a “probable human carcinogen.”

Harvard Medical School instructor Shadab Rahman, who’s also speaking at the Duluth event, said humans are “very sensitive to light.”

Working in an office and getting less light than expected during the day, then getting more than expected at night “works against our biology and contributes to adverse health effects,” he said.

Larson said organizers of the Duluth event are already thinking about plans for next year’s seminars, hoping an annual event will raise awareness in the state about keeping the nights dark.

“As the rest of the world continues to get brighter,” Larson said, “we end up with this amazing resource of being able to see the stars.”

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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    Class suited for introductory or beginning students. The basics of Iyengar style yoga will be tau...


  • Learn to Dance!

    01/30/2018
    07:15PM — 09:00PM

    Learn to waltz, two-step, foxtrot, and swing dance. Tuesdays at the 4-H Building, 7:15 to 9:00 PM...


  • The 100DayProject

    01/31/2018
    12:00AM — 12:00AM

    January 21 - April 30, 2018 The 100DayProject is an effort to motivate participants to commit ...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    01/31/2018
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 5 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • Anxiety/Depression Support Group for Women

    01/31/2018
    10:00AM — 11:00AM

    Weekly support group for women. $2.00 suggested donation. No registration required. Please joi...


  • Gentle Yoga at Cobblestone

    01/31/2018
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    For all with health concerns such as arthritis, high blood pressure, pregnancy or those who just ...


  • First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, inviting community conversation… Aging...


  • 1/2 Price Bottles of Wine

    01/31/2018
    11:00AM

    1/2 Price Bottles of Wine


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    01/31/2018
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Creamy Chicken Casserole/Broccoli/Fruit/Milk


  • Women's Yoga at Cobblestone Cabins

    01/31/2018
    05:15PM — 07:00PM

    Continuing class for all women interested in Iyengar Yoga. Walk-ins allowed with permission from ...


  • Beginning Spanish

    01/31/2018
    05:30PM — 07:00PM

    January 17, 24, 31, & February 7, 2018 | 5:30PM-7PM START LEARNING SPANISH or HELP REGAIN LOS...


  • Beginning Spanish

    01/31/2018
    05:30PM — 07:00PM

    January 17, 24, 31 and February 7th on Wednesdays 5:30-7pm Focus on vacation and travel languag...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    01/31/2018
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for January 4 through February 15. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM ...


  • The 100DayProject

    02/01/2018
    12:00AM — 12:00AM

    January 21 - April 30, 2018 The 100DayProject is an effort to motivate participants to commit ...


  • MOVE IT!

    02/01/2018
    12:00AM

    MOVE IT is about moving towards good health in lots of ways, including being physically active. ...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    02/01/2018
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 5 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • Lunch At the Senior Center

    02/01/2018
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Meatloaf/Baked Potato/Peas/Dessert/Milk


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    02/01/2018
    06:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • Film Night at North House

    02/01/2018
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    Winter Series returns every Thursday in February at North House with film nights. We’ll revisit f...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    02/01/2018
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for January 4 through February 15. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM ...


  • The 100DayProject

    02/02/2018
    12:00AM — 12:00AM

    January 21 - April 30, 2018 The 100DayProject is an effort to motivate participants to commit ...


  • MOVE IT!

    02/02/2018
    12:00AM

    MOVE IT is about moving towards good health in lots of ways, including being physically active. ...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    02/02/2018
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 5 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    02/02/2018
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Brats/Sauerkraut/Mash Potato/Dessert/Milk


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    02/02/2018
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Brats/Sauerkraut/Mash Potato/Dessert/Milk


  • The 100DayProject

    02/03/2018
    12:00AM — 12:00AM

    January 21 - April 30, 2018 The 100DayProject is an effort to motivate participants to commit ...


  • MOVE IT!

    02/03/2018
    12:00AM

    MOVE IT is about moving towards good health in lots of ways, including being physically active. ...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    02/03/2018
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 5 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • Voyageur Brewing Company Brewery Tour

    02/03/2018
    11:30AM — 12:30PM

    We offer tours on most Saturdays beginning at 11:30am but you need to reserve your space online i...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    02/03/2018
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for January 4 through February 15. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM ...


  • The 100DayProject

    02/04/2018
    12:00AM — 12:00AM

    January 21 - April 30, 2018 The 100DayProject is an effort to motivate participants to commit ...


  • MOVE IT!

    02/04/2018
    12:00AM

    MOVE IT is about moving towards good health in lots of ways, including being physically active. ...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    02/04/2018
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 5 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    02/04/2018
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and ho...


  • The 100DayProject

    02/05/2018
    12:00AM — 12:00AM

    January 21 - April 30, 2018 The 100DayProject is an effort to motivate participants to commit ...


  • MOVE IT!

    02/05/2018
    12:00AM

    MOVE IT is about moving towards good health in lots of ways, including being physically active. ...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    02/05/2018
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 5 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • Band Instrument Drive

    02/05/2018
    08:00AM

    The Cook County School band is looking to expand our program and include all 5th graders. Current...


  • 1/2 Price Burgers!

    02/05/2018
    11:00AM — 09:00PM

    1/2 Price Burgers at Moguls Grille and Tap Room


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    02/05/2018
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Sloppy Joes/Baked Beans/Coleslaw/Fruit/Milk


  • Overeaters Anonymous

    02/05/2018
    04:15PM — 05:15PM

    Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength and...


  • Co-Dependents Anonymous

    02/05/2018
    05:30PM

    Co-Dependents Anonymous is a Fellowship of men and women whose common purpose is to develop healt...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    02/05/2018
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for January 4 through February 15. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM ...


  • The 100DayProject

    02/06/2018
    12:00AM — 12:00AM

    January 21 - April 30, 2018 The 100DayProject is an effort to motivate participants to commit ...


  • MOVE IT!

    02/06/2018
    12:00AM

    MOVE IT is about moving towards good health in lots of ways, including being physically active. ...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    02/06/2018
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 5 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • Story Time at the Library

    02/06/2018
    10:30AM — 11:15AM

    Every Tuesday, January 9-February 27, story times are open to all ages and feature songs and othe...


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    02/06/2018
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Soup/Sandwich/Dessert/Milk


  • Bible Prophecy

    02/06/2018
    04:00PM — 05:30PM

    National and International speakers presented by DVD. The DVDs will be shown at the Community Ce...


  • Kids Eat Free

    02/06/2018
    04:00PM — 09:00PM

    1 free kids meal with any paid adult meal Available after 4pm


  • Colvill All-Levels Yoga

    02/06/2018
    05:30PM — 06:30PM

    Join us for yoga. Vinyasa-style yoga set to world music. Come rest your mind and energize your ...


  • Men's Yoga at Cobblestone Cabins

    02/06/2018
    05:30PM — 07:00PM

    Iyengar style yoga class for men interested in a well rounded yoga practice.


  • Intro/Beginning Iyengar Yoga at Cobblestone

    02/06/2018
    07:05PM — 08:20PM

    Class suited for introductory or beginning students. The basics of Iyengar style yoga will be tau...


  • Learn to Dance!

    02/06/2018
    07:15PM — 09:00PM

    Learn to waltz, two-step, foxtrot, and swing dance. Tuesdays at the 4-H Building, 7:15 to 9:00 PM...


  • The 100DayProject

    02/07/2018
    12:00AM — 12:00AM

    January 21 - April 30, 2018 The 100DayProject is an effort to motivate participants to commit ...


  • MOVE IT!

    02/07/2018
    12:00AM

    MOVE IT is about moving towards good health in lots of ways, including being physically active. ...


  • Terra Bella Floral fall hours

    02/07/2018
    12:00AM

    Monday and Tuesday Noon to 5 Wednesday through Friday 10 to 4 Saturday 10 to 2 Sunday Closed


  • Anxiety/Depression Support Group for Women

    02/07/2018
    10:00AM — 11:00AM

    Weekly support group for women. $2.00 suggested donation. No registration required. Please joi...


  • Gentle Yoga at Cobblestone

    02/07/2018
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    For all with health concerns such as arthritis, high blood pressure, pregnancy or those who just ...


  • 1/2 Price Bottles of Wine

    02/07/2018
    11:00AM

    1/2 Price Bottles of Wine


  • Lunch at the Senior Center

    02/07/2018
    12:00PM — 12:30PM

    Chef's Salad/Fruit/Dessert/Milk


  • Women's Yoga at Cobblestone Cabins

    02/07/2018
    05:15PM — 07:00PM

    Continuing class for all women interested in Iyengar Yoga. Walk-ins allowed with permission from ...


  • Beginning Spanish

    02/07/2018
    05:30PM — 07:00PM

    January 17, 24, 31, & February 7, 2018 | 5:30PM-7PM START LEARNING SPANISH or HELP REGAIN LOS...


  • Beginning Spanish

    02/07/2018
    05:30PM — 07:00PM

    January 17, 24, 31 and February 7th on Wednesdays 5:30-7pm Focus on vacation and travel languag...


  • Square Dance Lessons

    02/07/2018
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Modern Western Square Dance Schedule for January 4 through February 15. Time: 7:30 – 9:00 PM ...