The falling of stars 

Is light pollution blotting out Whistler's spectacular night sky?

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY DAVID MCCOLM
   
 

Page 8 of 11

"It's epic," he says of Hornby's stargazing potential. "It's really dark, and it's warmer because we're at sea level, and it's insect-free which is pretty amazing... and we have some unusual circumstances because we're surrounded by water.

"At night you do get some twinkling stars, but not as much as I thought we would. The one big trade-off is the altitude. If you get up to 2,000 metres, looking through about 25 per cent less air and moisture, the stars are bright and clear, you can see brighter colours, and you can see farther, fainter things which is a definite allure to stargazers."

It's for that thinner atmosphere that most observatories are located at altitudes, preferably in desert areas that see fewer clouds and less moisture than other areas. It's also the reason why the Hubble Telescope was able to capture images of distant galaxies and astronomical objects better than any earthbound observatories.

But while Whistler village is definitely challenged for stargazing, Nemy said there are still good places to go to observe stars, like Rainbow Park and Lost Lake. He also likes going to the Callaghan Valley, although he says you can see the lights of Whistler on the horizon — and in the other direction, the lights of Squamish, which he says have also increased substantially in the last 15 years or so.

"(Light pollution) has really ramped up in the last 15 years or so," Nemy says. "It used to be just somewhat noticeable but now..." he sighs. "I like to take pictures at night, but when you take a longer exposure photo with a camera that's sensitive to light, it just pops up and it's pretty intrusive."

But, taking the other side of the debate, Nemy says he does like the festive lights in the village and understands why they're there.

"I don't want to put too negative a spin on it, that's what tourists want to see, and it does create a nice atmosphere for the village," he says.

"But I moved to Whistler many years ago for a lot of reasons that aren't there now, and I still love it because of the natural world that surrounds Whistler. But where does that fit in now? In a way we've gone the same way as the rest of the planet, although I think Whistler still has an opportunity to really stand out in the world full of resorts as a natural destination... it's a 'less is more' kind of thing."

Nemy says the days of shooting light photons in the sky may be ending anyway, for practical reasons rather than any debate over aesthetics and nature.

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