SNOWBIRD — Being the brightest isn't the best in some circumstances, especially if you are talking light pollution and night skies.
Utah has some of the best dark skies in the world, attracting visitors to state parks, national parks and rugged stretches of the state populated by few people.
But preserving those dark skies isn't an easy endeavor, and researchers are still unlocking the mysteries of how dark skies influence the human psyche, the natural environment and even air pollution.
"People come from all over the world to see our dark skies," said Justina Parsons-Bernstein, who leads the Utah State Parks dark skies initiative.
The International Dark-Sky Association is having its 30th annual general meeting at Snowbird through Saturday, and the University of Utah-based Consortium for Dark Skies Studies is co-hosting global researchers with Artificial Light at Night (ALAN) for its first international meeting in the United States Nov. 12-14.
John Barentine, director of public policy for the International Dark-Sky Association, said Friday that Utah is an ideal location for these meetings.
"It is very important we are here in Utah, here in the American West," Barentine said because the region offers some of the best wide expanses of untouched land and dark skies.
The Great Western Starry Way, an initiative of the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, promotes what it says is the best concentration of night skies in the developed world and Utah is dead center, accounting for more than half of the 60-plus dark sky places between Glacier National Park and the Grand Canyon.
Barentine added that mankind's relationship with night remains an abstract relationship still yet to be understood in terms of security, energy, the environment, health and crime.
At the Friday conference, one researcher noted that it turns out having the brightest lights isn't always the best for human health and safety, although the gut reaction of most people would assume otherwise.
Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor of atmospheric sciences and pulmonary fellow in the University of Utah's School of Medicine, said researchers are working with Salt Lake City on a study that examines light glare and its impacts on motorists and how well they see pedestrians.
The glare from too much artificial light, Mendoza said, puts pedestrians at risk — much like a motorist staring into late afternoon sun.
Local dark sky preservationists say the desire to curb light pollution is gaining momentum every year, especially as astro-tourism funnels dollars into Utah and elsewhere in the West.
In 2017, Antelope Island State Park received an International Dark Sky designation and for years has been hosting late night parties that attract hundreds of visitors.
The city of Syracuse passed a resolution supporting the dark-sky designation and pledged to help preserve those dark skies.
Communities around the state want to do what they can to preserve the solitude of that darkness.
The U.'s consortium is bringing a couple of dozen students to Escalante in January to help that town as it educates students in urban planning and architecture on what strategies to employ to reduce light pollution.Comment on this story
The advocates say it is not about "turning off the lights" but preserving an indelible resource in jeopardy.
Christopher Kyba, who chairs the international steering committee for Artificial Light at Night and is with the German Research Center for Geoscience, said people don't crave bright artificial light at night — despite the dazzling glare of urban landscapes.
"It is almost never about the amount of light," he said. "It is about the feeling of the place. … It is not true that people want bright, they want something that makes them feel good."