Last September, the International Dark-Sky Association officially declared that the Sandhills region in Nebraska has some of the darkest skies on Earth. This confirmation comes as no surprise to the attendees of the annual Nebraska Star Party, who have been aware of the region’s exceptional astronomical conditions for the past 30 years.
The 729-acre Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area, located in Cherry County, has now become the first certified International Dark Sky Park in Nebraska. This achievement is the result of a collaborative effort between two state agencies.
Visitors to Merritt Reservoir are treated to an extraordinary spectacle of celestial beauty. The Milky Way shines so brightly here that it is possible to see shadows cast on the ground. Brenda Culbertson, a solar system ambassador with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, enthusiastically endorsed the park’s dark skies during the recent Nebraska Star Party. She and her husband, Mike, a farmer and mechanical engineer, spent the evening stargazing through their personal telescope.
The stargazing experience at Merritt Reservoir is said to be otherworldly. The stars appear to be closer to the viewer, almost as if they are within reach. It truly feels like being on a different planet.
The certification of Merritt Reservoir as an International Dark Sky Park not only highlights the outstanding astronomical conditions in the region but also serves to protect and preserve its dark skies. This recognition opens up opportunities for educational programs, research initiatives, and astrotourism in the area.
Merritt Reservoir’s new status as a dark sky park sets the stage for future astronomy enthusiasts to explore and appreciate the beauty of the night sky like never before.