Pictured Above: At Hashamomuck Pond, Greenport | Rob DeL Images photo

The East End’s skies have long been a rare source of consolation from the Northeast Corridor’s incessant light pollution, spawning citizen observatories like the Custer Institute in Southold and the Hamptons Observatory, based at The Ross School in East Hampton, which had long held its programs under the wide open skies in Montauk.

But the increased suburbanization of our region is bringing light pollution with it, and this April, as the world celebrates International Dark Sky Week from April 5 through April 12, a newly-formed coalition of North Fork environmental organizations is working to get the word out about why the dark sky is important, and what we can do to keep light pollution from escaping.

The new North Fork Dark Sky Coalition includes the North Fork Environmental Council, North Fork Audubon, Group for the East End, Coffee Pot Cellars, Mattituck Laurel Civic Association and Custer Institute.

The coalition’s mission is to engage the community in outdoor and virtual night sky exploration and education, and engage businesses and professionals who work with artificial lighting across the commercial spectrum, including retail merchandising, landscaping, architecture, installation and construction.

Dark skies are not only important for astronomers and nature lovers — they also protect birds and insects whose sensory systems are fine-tuned to light.

“Dark Sky Week helps us explore, enjoy, and understand the night sky and ways to protect it,” said Debbie O’Kane, a coalition member from the North Fork Audubon Society. “Dark Sky Week brings attention to this special, valuable natural resource – a clear, dark sky.” 

The dark sky above an East End railroad overpass. | Rob DeL Images photo

The North Fork Dark Sky Coalition launched a website, www.northforkdarksky.org, in mid-March, and is presenting three kick-off events during Dark Sky Week. 

On Friday, April 2 at Orient Beach State Park, and again on Saturday, April 3 at Custer Institute at 1115 Main Bayview Road in Southold, the public is invited at 7 p.m. for a tour of the night sky and live Covid-safe viewing with Steven Bellavia, Principal Engineer of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and Professor of Physics at Suffolk County Community College.

Using a laser pointer and a laptop monitor and telescope with an astronomy camera, attendees will be viewing images of deep space celestial objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters.

“During North Fork Dark Sky Week, we literally will help you see the far reaches of our galaxy while learning about the role the night – the dark – plays in our ‘daily’ lives,” says Dr. Bellavia. 

To register for either session, email northforkdarksky@gmail.com and include the event date in the subject line.

On Monday, April 5 at 6:30 p.m., the North Fork Environmental Council will host a Zoom Presentation to learn about the benefits of a dark sky and what you can do to prevent light pollution. Organizations that are members of the North Fork Dark Sky Coalition will also discuss their initiatives to prevent light pollution and provide information how you can get involved.

To register for the Zoom session, email office@nfec1.org and include NFDS Zoom in the subject line.

“Unlike so many urban and overdeveloped landscapes, the East End still enjoys a dark, beautiful panoramic night sky,” said coalition member Bob DeLuca of Group for the East End. “That’s essential to sustaining our agricultural and tourism economies and our own senses of wonder, well-being, and inspiration.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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