Utah has some of the darkest skies on Earth and the highest concentration of certified International Dark Sky parks and communities in the world.

For the fourth consecutive year, Gov. Spencer Cox declared April as “Dark Sky Month” in Utah, touting the tourism benefits stargazing brings to the state and its western neighbors.

“Visitors to Utah engaging in astrotourism tend to stay longer, spend more and mitigate harmful tourism impacts on the local community,” reads an official declaration Cox signed Monday.

What is astrotourism?

About 80% of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way from their homes.

Astrotourism is traveling to places — sometimes remote locales — where it’s possible to see celestial events such as stars, planets, eclipses and meteor showers due to minimal light pollution. It also includes visiting observatories, planetariums and other astronomy-related places.

The Colorado Plateau, a region that includes parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, is known for its dark, star-filled night skies. A 2019 study found tourists in national parks are increasingly interested in observing the night sky, especially considering that natural recreational amenity is quickly disappearing from the planet. The study forecasts that tourists who value dark skies will spend $5.8 billion over the next 10 years in the Colorado Plateau and create more than 10,000 new jobs in the area each year.

“Furthermore, as dark skies are an even more intense natural amenity in the non-summer months, they have the ability to increase visitor counts to national parks year-round and lead to a more efficient use of local community and tourism-related resources throughout the year,” the study says.

All five of Utah’s national parks — Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion — as well as 10 state parks and three communities are accredited International Dark Sky places.

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Dark Sky certification

The International Dark Sky Places program certifies communities, parks and protected areas around the world that preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education, according to DarkSky.org.

DarkSky has certified more than 200 places since Flagstaff, Arizona, was named the first International Dark Sky City in 2001. There are nearly 62,000 square miles of protected land and night skies in 22 countries on six continents. Certified areas are required to use quality outdoor lighting, effective policies to reduce light pollution and ongoing stewardship practices.

According to DarkSky, certification alerts visitors to light pollution and the need to preserve the night sky as a natural resource. It supports management agencies in achieving long-term conservation targets and connecting people to nature. It also serves as an economic driver by fostering increased tourism and local economic activity.

The Utah declaration says stargazing, astronomy programs, star parties, dark sky photography and other activities allow Utahns and visitors to enjoy the physical and emotional benefits of the night sky. Dark skies are also integral to the well-being of many animal and plant species, and are shown to have positive health impacts on people.

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Solar eclipse

On April 8, Utahns will have their gaze fixed on the sky for a partial solar eclipse, with maximum coverage of nearly 50% happening at 12:32 p.m. MDT in Salt Lake City, according to the Clark Planetarium. The planetarium will host viewing parties on that Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Gary C. Swensen Valley Regional Park, 5100 S. 2700 West, Taylorsville, and Pioneer Park, 350 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City. Solar telescopes and free viewing glasses will be available.

Activities include:

View the Sun: Safely look at the sun through filtered telescopes and binoculars.

Chalk the Corona: Learn about the sun and create your own eclipse-inspired art.

Pinhole Projectors: Witness the eclipse through projected images.

UV Bead Bracelets: Make a bracelet using ultraviolet-activated beads while learning about solar radiation.

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Eclipse-onomics: April 8 event expected to drive over $1 billion in spending

The solar eclipse is expected to lure some 4 million people to the dozen or so U.S. states that lie in the path of totality. (Utah is not one of them.) Those visitors are expected to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into communities that are best located for the roughly four-minute view of a total eclipse in the middle of an event that will take about two hours from start to finish. The optimum viewing corridor follows an arcing path that begins in south Texas and ends its journey across the continental U.S. in northern Maine.

In 2017, hundreds of thousands of people drove, flew, rented cars, booked Airbnbs and hotel rooms, ate at restaurants, and bought gas and souvenirs in states where the path of totality crossed. Wyoming brought in $63.5 million, South Carolina $269 million and Nebraska $127 million, according to nightskytourist.com.

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