Foothills County is entirely a dark sky zone, making it the perfect location to look upwards and see the stars.

For over a decade, Foothills County has enforced a Dark Sky Bylaw, which helps the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory research the night sky.

"We try to educate people in the ways of what light pollution is, and how it can be prevented, and what it does. And why we should all work together to keep the skies dark," explains the Observatory's Director, Dr. Phil Langill. "So, that's kind of our mandate with regard to the Dark Sky aspect of being a resident of Foothills County."

The bylaw isn't necessarily about telling people what they can or cannot do. Dr. Langill explains that the bylaw is supposed to showcase the advantages of keeping light levels low at night.

"If you aren't careful and people put up more and more outdoor lights, then the sky deteriorates. And over time, when you once had this beautiful star-filled sky in your backyard, a few years later it is completely gone," explains Langill. He says that it is quite simple to help keep light pollution down. 

"People need light at night, to be safe, but people tend to use far, far too much light in their residences at night. And they leave it on all night, when the light is only needed for a little task," explains Langill. He suggests switching to motion sensor lights in our yards.

"So that when you open the door, the dog goes outside, does his thing, comes back in, then the light goes off. And you've had the light you need on, for the amount of time you need it on, but then you can restore the environment back to its natural state after you've done the task," says Langill. He also suggests using lower-wattage lights, as well as adding a style of light that has a hat, which prevents light from going up into the sky.

While Foothills County has a light pollution bylaw, the City of Calgary has grown large enough that light pollution from the city can be seen out at the observatory. On top of the glow from the city, more buildings are being built within Foothills County, which also affects the darkness of the sky. 

Langill explains that the effect of lights is cumulative. 

"No one person is contributing a lot, but a lot of people contributing a little, makes the stars disappear," says Langill. He says we all have to work together to keep the sky dark. He adds that light at night is also detrimental to the natural world because it affects animals and insects in negative ways. 

"We are kind of getting hampered by light pollution. It's really, really hard to make new discoveries when we are in that kind of environment," says Langill. "So, what we do is, we wait for other people to claim that they've made some discovery, or they see something interesting, or something new, and they want other people to follow up and make sure that what they saw is what they saw."

So, Langill and his team contributes to the follow-up observations to verify those claims.

"It's fun because we participate in this global community. And also, sometimes we verify what people are finding, and sometimes we say, you know, 'Maybe we need to follow up on that some more,'" Langill explains. 

The Rothney Observatory is part of a global partnership of astronomers from around the world and they try to bolster other researchers' discoveries in any way they can.

People are welcome to visit the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory. They host regular Space Nights, where people are able to come to visit them, talk to astronomers, and look through their telescopes. They do them monthly, with a few exceptions.

In the summertime, they hold Milkyway Nights, where doors to the Observatory don't open until around ten at night, and people can stay until around 2 a.m. so people can still see the stars.

The next Space Night will be in February 2024. 

For more information on what they do, or get tickets to their Space Nights, visit their website

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