Dark Skies of Newfoundland and Labrador
Where to View the Darkest Skies and How We Can Work to Preserve Them
Before we began settling in towns and cities, the night sky was a source of wonder that inspired tales of heroes, gods, and mystical beings. It was a map that could be used to navigate and allowed us to create the first theories as to what was beyond the world around us. Even today when you stand under a perfectly clear sky, where you can see thousands of stars crossed by the magnificent Milky Way, you feel small and insignificant but in a way that inspires wonder and curiosity.
But as our communities grew, our night skies began to diminish. Light pollution is excessive, misdirected light created from human made sources that reflects off the atmosphere, brightening the night sky. While the negative effects are not as immediately toxic as other sources of pollution, light pollution can disrupt plants, animals, and insects living in the ecosystem, lead to negative side effects in humans, and ‘washes’ the night sky, hiding all but the brightest of stars.
We have slowly become more aware of this problem and as a result, many places have begun to take action against this wasted light. Even in the smallest towns, light pollution effects us in some way. The best way to understand the problem is drive to a place that can be considered void of artificial light on a clear, moonless night and look up. The number of stars visible in contrast with the Milky Way, can make anyone want to do better in our fight to combat light pollution.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are lucky in this sense. Due to its small population scattered over a large area, everyone in the province is within a reasonable drive to a perfectly dark night sky. And while you may think that your cabin or campsite is free of outside sources of light, you may be surprised of just how effected you are even in some of the provinces most remote areas.
Why is it Important to Care About Light Pollution?
There are many reasons to care about light pollution. The day and night cycle is one that many organisms depend on, including ourselves. When we interrupt natural processes such as this, the impacts, while slow to detect at first, can have adverse effects on us and our world. Some of the negative effects of light pollution include:
Artificial light is much greater than light produced by nature causing it to disrupt organisms and ecosystems that depend on natural light for migration, feeding, and pollinating. An example of this can be found close to home in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, where North Americas largest colony of Atlantic Puffins can be found. Puffins use natural light from the moon and stars to navigate at night during fledging. However, increasing development growth along the southern shore has led to increased light use and as a result has disrupted the nature navigation aides used by Puffins. This excessive light draws the Puffins to shore causing them to become stranded on beaches where they are vulnerable to predators.
Light pollution originates from excessive and obtrusive artificial sources such as misguided streetlights, house lights, billboards, etc. But this misguidance of light upwards means that energy is being wasted to light up places we do not need lit. Therefore, working to decrease light pollution can also decrease energy consumption, helping build more climate friendly communities.
The most obvious impact of light pollution to humans is that it washes the night sky, making it more difficult to see the sky and stars within it. This also makes it difficult for astronomers to study the sky from earth.
Dark Sky Designation
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) leads the way in Canada for determining areas that can be classified as Dark-Sky Preserves, Urban Star Parks, and Nocturnal Preserves. Working with Parks Canada, on February 20, 2018, the RASC designated Terra Nova National Park as Newfoundland and Labrador’s first Dark-Sky Preserve. This means that the park has taken action on adjusting and eliminating harmful lighting and has committed to promoting education and awareness for astronomy and the preservation of our night sky.
Currently, Newfoundland and Labrador’s only designated Dark-Sky Preserve is in Terra Nova National Park. It is recommended that the best spots within the park to view the sky are at Sandy Pond, Ochre Hill, Blue Hill, or the Visitors Center. Other government recommended places include:
Torngat Mountains in Northern Labrador
Brimstone Head on Fogo Island
L’Anse Aux Meadows on the Norther Peninsula
Gros Morne National Park
Codroy Valley on the Southwest Coast
Battle Harbour in Southern Labrador
The Darkest Locations of Newfoundland
Thanks to the provinces scattered population and vast land area, nobody in Newfoundland and Labrador are ever further than a three-hour drive to a location that can be considered 100% dark. This is unlike any other province in Canada. Even with this in consideration, many residents, especially those in the higher populated areas, and those who are visiting the province from away, often get caught up in thinking that the best and only places to experience the darkest skies are those that are recommended in guidebooks and by Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism. But this is certainly not the only places and are arguably not even the best places.
The following list are the locations across the province that provide the greatest views of the night sky. While some of these locations can be found along highways and near communities, others, unsurprisingly are found off-the-beaten path and in isolated, hard to get to locations. But in a world where light pollution is a growing problem, the trek to find what remains of our night skies is a small price to pay to be reminded what the whole world use to see late at night.
Accessible to Everyone
Daniels Harbour to Belburns to River of Ponds
Route 430, Great Northern Peninsula
Route 430 is the highway that follows the west side of the Northern Peninsula which runs from Deer Lake in the south to St. Anthony in the north. While the highway can be dangerous to travel at night due to the large populations of caribou and moose that regularly wander onto the road, it also holds some of the darkest skies per kilometer in the province. The best place to see this is on the stretch of road between Daniels Harbour to River of Ponds.
This long, isolated stretch of highway is the darkest section of the Trans Canada Highway in Newfoundland and possibly one of the darkest sections in all of Canada. With no nearby communities and only a scattered cabin to brighten the sky, this location on Newfoundland’s primary driving route is a spectacular place to stop and admire the stars. Be careful though as the dark highway can be dangerous and so we recommend pulling off at the following locations if you happen to drive through here on a clear night.
Route 370, Central Newfoundland
Route 370 leaves the Trans-Canada Highway in Badger and travels to the small communities of Buchans and Millertown on Red Indian Lake. This stretch of road is incredibly dark and even when in the small towns of Millertown and Buchans Junction, a true appreciation of what our night skies should look like become apparent. On the northwest shore of Red Indian Lake, Mary March Wilderness Park campsite is a spectacular place to stay and take in the night sky.
Route 480, Southwest Coast
Route 480 is the longest stretch of highway in the province where you will not see any towns, people, or turnoffs. Except for the occasional small cabin and lots of moose it is one of the most isolated roads in Newfoundland. Because of this it is also a remarkable place to take in the night sky. In certain locations along this paved route, you will be more than 65 kilometers from any form of settlement making it the perfect place to get away from any light pollution. An added addition to this highway is the landscape is largely barren and contains few hills making for wondrous panoramic views of the sky.
Bay D’Espoir Highway
Route 360, Central Newfoundland
Its controversial whether or not this highway is more isolated than Route 480 to Burgeo, but Route 360 which travels between Bishops Falls and Bay D’Espoir is certainly a road that can be used to escape human made light interference. While the light from Grand Falls-Windsor and St. Albans takes a little bit away from the skies in the north and south extremities of the highway, the middle 40 kilometers promises not to disappoint. If you are driving, make sure to keep one eye on the road as the moose along this section are notorious.
All of Labrador!
In the Big Land, clear, unobstructed views of the night sky are in no short supply. This enormous region is only scattered with the occasional community and because of this it is easy to get incredible glimpses of the night sky. Keep an eye out to, for Labrador is also the best place in the province to see the Northern Lights.
Most of central Newfoundland is not only completely uninhabited, but also incredibly isolated. A network of well-maintained gravel roads that services the hydroelectric facilities found in the area can be accessed from the Burgeo Highway (Route 480), Bay D’Espoir (Route 361), and Millertown (Route 370). From each entrance you can drive for nearly a hundred kilometers without ever seeing anyone, making it an unbelievable place to see the stars. As with any backcountry travel, proper knowledge of the area and the roads are needed to navigate this difficult terrain. One other way to witness the spectacular night sky the area has to offer is by visiting one of the many isolated communities along the south coast of the island. If you can excuse the incredible fjords and mountains that block part of the sky, you will surely not be disappointed.
The Inaccessible Interior and East Coast of the Northern Peninsula
The area offers some of the best backcountry hiking and snowmobiling in the province, but that is also about the only way to access this location. Nonetheless, if you manage to get back here the flat barren plateau that make up most the region are sure to offer an experience of a lifetime for witnessing the sky at its clearest.
Where is the Best Place to See the Night Sky Near You?
For most people living in small town Newfoundland and Labrador, witnessing a dark sky is something taken for granted. Even if the town you live has a light pollution problem, a short drive outside of town delivers you to a whole new world. But for those living in the larger centers it can be difficult to find the best place to stargaze. Below is a list of places to go if you find yourself in Newfoundland’s largest communities.
St. John’s and the Northeast Avalon
To get away from the light pollution of the Newfoundland’s most populated region, you do need to drive an enormous distance before you can experience a clear sky. One of the best places to get away from the city lights is in Chance Cove Provincial Park, located approximately 120 kilometers south of St. John’s on the Irish Loop (Route 10).
While it is easy to escape the light pollution in Clarenville by utilizing the many gravel roads that travel through the nearby backcountry, for those wishing to stay on paved roads, the best place to go is on the Burin Peninsula Highway where the flat rocky landscape and distant communities allows the night sky to come alive. Be sure to also check out the Dark Sky Preserve in Terra Nova National Park.
Travelling north of Gander on Route 330, you are sure to witness incredible, clear skies and if you are willing to travel further the stretch of coastline between Musgrave Harbour and Lumsden is a spectacular place to see the stars from some of Newfoundland’s best beaches.
From Grand Falls-Windsor, the best places to see the stars are by either travelling south down the Bay D’Espoir Highway, west on the Trans-Canada Highway, or driving south of Badger along Route 370.
The best place to see a light-pollution free sky in the Corner Brook area is by travelling south on the Trans-Canada Highway towards Stephenville. As you pass Georges Lake and approach the turnoff to the community of Gallants, you will begin to see just how much of the sky you were missing, even in a small city such as Corner Brook.
How can we cut down on light pollution?
What can each of do to cut down on our light pollution? Below is a short list of actions we can all take to begin to make a change.
Perhaps the best thing we can all do is understand the problem and promote others to learn about it as well. Education and understanding are the first step in mitigating and eliminating the problem.
Promote better light management in your community. Using proper street lighting, discouraging excessive outdoor lighting, and promoting eco-friendly lighting options such as timers and sensors, will not only benefit our communities and environment but can also save businesses and municipalities energy cost.
Recognize excessive grouping of lighting especially on local businesses and billboards and inform them of the damaging effects they may be causing. These may be places with outdoor lighting, misguided parking lot lighting, or excessively bright billboards and advertisements. In contrast, recognize and support environmentally friendly establishments that promote good energy and environmental management.
Volunteer with your local chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. https://rasc.ca/lpa
Simply keep the lights off when you can, especially when camping or at a cabin.
Sources & Further Exploring
Bogard, P. (2013, August 19). Bringing Back the Night: A Fight Against Light Pollution. YaleEnvironment360. Retrieved from https://e360.yale.edu/features/bringing_back_the_night__a_fight_against_light_pollution.
CIE (2003) Guide on the limitation of the effect of obtrusive light from outdoor lighting installations. Publication No 150. CIE, Vienna
Raman-Wilms, M. (2020, November 6). Reducing light pollution has numerous benefits for the environment. CBC News. Retrieve from https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/what-on-earth-light-pollution-1.5791313
Schroer S., Hölker F. (2014) Light Pollution Reduction. In: Karlicek R., Sun CC., Zissis G., Ma R. (eds) Handbook of Advanced Lighting Technology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-00295-8_43-1
Zheleva, M. (2012). The dark side of light. Light pollution kills leatherback turtle hatchlings. Biodiscovery 2012; 3: 4. DOI: 10.7750/BioDiscovery.2012.3.4. Retrieved from https://biodiscoveryjournal.co.uk/the-dark-side-of-light-light-pollution-kills-leatherback-turtle-hatchlings/#.Ug0sboW9wdU