Utah Stories

Stargazing in Moab, Utah is amazing

Moab is famous as a backdrop for dozens of movies, and stars are often seen hanging out at local hotspots. But the real stars come out at night.  


Night skies are a tourism bright spot in Moab                                               

Moab is famous as a backdrop for dozens of movies, and stars are often seen hanging out at local hotspots. But the real stars come out at night.  

More than 80 percent of the American population is living under light-polluted skies. In 1994, Los Angeles experienced a power outage due to an earthquake. During that power outage, the citizens flooded 911 centers and the Griffith Observatory with calls about a strange silvery cloud in the sky. The residents who had lived in the city their entire lives had never experienced a dark night sky and they were seeing the Milky Way for the first time. 

Tourists have uncovered a secret that Moab residents have known for decades—Moab’s sky is ideal for stargazing.

Steps are being taken by Moab and Grand County to pass new light ordinances that will dramatically reduce the impacts of lighting on dark skies. They are seeking to become International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) Communities. Arches National Park was designated an IDA Dark Skies Park earlier this summer.

The Bortle scale

Moab City currently has a Bortle rating of 4, but the surrounding areas are between 2 & 3, mostly 2.

The Bortle scale is used to measure the effect of artificial light on the night sky and the ratings range between 1 and 9.

A rating of 1 is rare to find on earth and is found in largely unpopulated areas. A rating of 9 is common in major cities throughout the world. 

Shane Jordan, a former resident of Moab who now lives in Las Vegas (Bortle rating of 8 & 9) says, “I get back home to Moab as often as I can. One of the things I most look forward to is sitting under the stars with friends and family engaging in conversation.”  

Tourists who want to experience night sky splendor can gaze through the telescope of Crystal White, co-founder of Moab’s IDA Dark Skies, and owner of Moab Astronomy Tours. She also shares her knowledge learned as a night ranger for 12 years at Island in the Sky State Park, just outside of Moab. 

“Local public land has very little artificial light at night, low wind, low precipitation, clear nights, and low air pollution. The greater Moab area is ideal for stargazing. One of my biggest fears is that people won’t be able to view the night sky as humans have been doing for millennia. I feel if we lose our connection to the universe, we’ll lose our connection to each other.”

Bryan Haile, a photo tour guide at Tom Till Tours expressed similar sentiments.

“I feel the Moab area is very special for night photography. The ancient landscape and history of this area often contribute to my compositions when photographing the night sky. Visitors are always inspired to photograph the night landscape. For many, it is a new experience to see and capture with their camera, the vastness of the dark skies.” 

Dan Norris, co-owner and photography guide at Tom Till Tours advised, “The latest digital cameras, with the right lens, are capable of capturing a brilliant Milky Way, and a growing number of people want to learn how to do it. Moab’s dark skies bring them here. I would say about 75 percent of the people who book tours with us want to attempt night landscapes with the Milky Way or star trails if the moon is too bright.”

One of the most amazing ways to connect to yourself, other people, our ancestors, and the universe, is to find a dark clear sky, look up and let your eyes behold the sheer magnitude of how small it makes you feel and how lucky you are to be here. The light filtering through your eyes is thousands, even millions of years old; older than mankind itself. 

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