Origins of Starlight: IAC
One of the keys for understanding the birth of the Foundation are the aims of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands. It is a Spanish public research institution that, since its foundation in 1982, has become an international benchmark. In a single place, it concerns itself with astrophysics, advanced scientific instrumentation, university education and the cultural dissemination of science.
In fact, the IAC observatories in Tenerife (Teide Observatory) and La Palma (Roque de los Muchachos Observatory) are the European Northern Observatory (ENO) and have installed telescopes and instruments from over sixty scientific institutions from nineteen countries. The Roque de los Muchachos Observatory has the largest and most advanced optical-infrared telescope in the world, the Gran Telescopio Canarias, designed and built by the IAC.
IAC Strategic Challenges
El IAC, desde su creación ha tenido tres preocupaciones que más tarde han dado lugar al nacimiento de Starlight:
The Scientific Dimension
To value and protect the quality of the starry sky as conditio sine qua non for astrophysical observation with telescopes while pursuing the best, highest quality science.
The Cultural Dimension
To spread public interest in astronomy, drawing attention to the value of the night sky, not only for astrophysical research, but also as a scientific, cultural and environmental heritage to be protected and passed on to future generations.
The Economic Dimension
To boost the economy through the contemplation and interpretation of the starry sky, promoting infrastructure, products and activities in the field of sustainable tourism which we call “star tourism”.
The IAC’s fight against light pollution in the night sky has been a constant, logical worry to the point that a national law was promoted, the “law of the sky” (Act 31/1988), a pioneering law in the protection of the sky in the islands of La Palma and Tenerife. It became the precedent for similar regulations in other areas of the planet. In addition, the Technical Office for the Protection of the Skies (OTPC) was also created, specializing in monitoring and advice in the field.
The International Starlight Conference
In 2007, with the participation of other organizations and national and international institutions, the IAC promoted the “First International Starlight Conference” which, under the slogan “Starlight, a Common Heritage”, explored the need to protect the night sky on our planet from different perspectives and find ways for its enjoyment by society.
The objective of this meeting was to spread the idea of the defense of the night sky among the population, considering it an outstanding, universal cultural value and a vital condition to promote and develop “astronomical tourism”, and not only a necessary condition for scientific researchers who observe and study the universe.
Starlight principles and recommendations emerged from the International Conference and they are brought together in the “Declaration in Defense of the Quality of the Night Sky and the Right to Starlight” (“La Palma Declaration.” 2007), in which, in addition to the IAC, representatives of UNESCO, UNWTO, IAU, UNEP-CMS, CE, SCBD, COE, MAB and the Ramsar Convention all participated and launched Starlight as an international movement in defense of the Night Skies and the Right to Starlight.
The Starlight Foundation was created in 2009, following the “First International Starlight Conference”. Since then, it has been a legal entity whose main objective is the dissemination of astronomy and the coordination, management and promotion of the principles and philosophy of the Starlight movement, developing all its possible dimensions in order to extend them worldwide through activities, products and services in these areas.
Therefore, as already indicated in the introduction, the Starlight Foundation is a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to develop programs and actions to provide a different way of protecting and defending the sky and of valuing it as a resource necessary for life and the intangible heritage of humanity.
Objectives of the Foundation
1.- Protection of the Night Sky
One of the main objectives of the Foundation – contained in the “La Palma Declaration” – is the protection and conservation of the night skies, as an important scientific, cultural, environmental and tourist resource.
It is important to spread the idea of smart lighting among the public and to promote local, national and international initiatives to prevent light pollution, thereby enabling energy savings and mitigating the effects of climate change.
2.- Cultural dissemination of astronomy
Another of the aims of the Starlight Foundation is innovative astronomical outreach, linking it to society through tourist activities related to the Stars, building a network of Starlight Rural Houses and Hotels, promoting Stellariums where astronomical festivals and activities can be organized, creating astrophotography contests, etc. It aims to disseminate the science, but in a fun way, creating leisure spaces, for example, in locations that have achieved or are working towards certification as a Starlight Tourist Destination.
To achieve these goals, it is also important to offer specialized training courses run by those people (Astronomical Monitors and Starlight Guides) who will serve as a link with the population.
3.- Star Tourism
Another objective is to promote scientific tourism and, more specifically, star tourism as an emerging, sustainable, high-quality segment. To this end, the Foundation has a certification system by which those places where the sky quality and infrastructure allow this type of activity are accredited as Starlight Tourist Destinations. The Foundation also awards the status of Starlight Reserve to those places that maintain the natural lighting conditions and clarity of the night sky intact, incorporating the starscape into their existing cultural and natural assets.
4.- Intelligent lighting and energy saving
The Foundation also strives to implement a culture of rational lighting, which allows energy conservation, the development of star tourism in different parts of the planet and the protection of many species that need a dark sky for their conservation.
The different ways of referring to “Starlight” (“Starlight Universe”, “Starlight Initiative” and / or “Starlight Foundation”) are terms that describe aspects of the movement and ways of working towards the goals.
“Starlight” as a whole, is considered by UNESCO to be an associated action that has the support of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
It can be said that the principles behind the initiative and the Starlight Foundation have emerged from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC) as a natural result of the value it attaches to the quality of the sky by night and day and its desire to protect and treat it as an important source of knowledge and culture that should be shared with society as a whole, promoting the popularization of astronomy and sustainable, high-quality tourism in those places where the night sky is cared for.