Astronomy is an effective tool for sustainable development socially, culturally, economically, and environmentally and can benefit [e.g., M. Pović et al, 2018, McBride et al, 2018] both our society and the planet. Astronomy is also used to preserve dark skies, indigenous groups, their culture and traditions, and our historical, anthropological, and ethnoarchaeological heritage.
Besides its fundamental importance for observational astronomy and science development, dark sky and astronomical heritage play a key role in boosting Astro-tourism and contributing to social and sustainable economic development. A clear dark sky is a natural gift to connect with the cosmos. Keeping the sky dark and unpolluted allows us to see the night sky the way our ancestors saw it. Thus, it is an essential part of the scientific, cultural, and natural heritage, and values attached to humanity. Dark sky areas also offer unique and sustainable tourism experiences, alongside numerous benefits for local communities.
The tourism industry contributes about 10.4% of global GDP and 7% to Africa’s total GDP. (World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC), 2019). Popularizing, educating, investing, and preserving dark sky sites are thus vital for accelerating socio-economic benefits aside from the scientific and cultural advantage that Astro-tourism can offer. Dark sky and astronomical heritage are, therefore, considered as engines for sustainable economic development that contribute to the GDP of the tourism industry.
Nowadays, increasing artificial light pollution across the world has quickly reduced humanity’s ability to see celestial objects. More than 80% of the world’s population lives under a light-polluted sky, and as a result, it tends to decrease the accessibility of dark and quiet sky for celestial object observations. For instance, the Milky Way is entirely obscured from more than one-third of humanity (Falchiet al. 2016).
Though, dark sky is an invaluable asset it has never been vastly utilized. As reported by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA), among a large number of dark sky places around the world only 180 places were certified by Dark Sky Places (DSP). As compared to the continental level, Africa has more untapped dark sky resources than the rest of the continents. However, only two places in Namibia, the NamibRand Nature Reserve, and the Ae! Hai Kalahari Heritage Park in South Africa attained international dark sky reserve status. This shows that astronomical tourism is given less attention in Africa and it represents a less-studied segment of sustainable tourism, where a dark night sky is an underlying resource.
Even if, dark sky is inspirational and relevant for astronomical observations and research, educational purposes, and Astro-tourism, it is highly in danger due to light pollution, as mentioned above. This is due to the fact that the decision-makers and the society have less awareness about the dark and quiet sky and its socio-economic benefits. Therefore, it needs both formal and informal educational approaches to create awareness of the challenge of light pollution for the development of astronomy, in particular in Africa, so that the countries can benefit more from their dark sky as it is still one of the African natural resources. Popularizing the artifacts and historical development of astronomical heritage, enhancing the capability of utilizing the dark sky (given emphasis to Africa’s dark sky), the eco-cultural and natural landscape for astronomical observation for Astro-tourism, can be used as an engine for sustainable development.
The proposed IAU meeting is therefore seeking to address the following points:
- The impact of Astro-tourism and its role for social and sustainable economic development and case studies discussion around the world.
- Review the measure taken on the effect of light pollution on astronomical observation for dark sky protection, and set a mechanism on how to preserve and utilize dark sky resources, in particular in Africa and set recommendations to be acted upon by international and local decision makers.
- The identification of potential Astro-tourism sites, dark sky reserves, and astronomical heritage and proposing potential dark sky sites to register in International Dark-Sky Place (IDSP).
- The role of education and outreach in enhancing dark sky and Astro-tourism heritage for developing countries.
- The utilization of dark sky, cultural astronomy, and astronomical heritages to boost Astro-tourism.
- Awareness creation, popularization, and promotion of dark and quiet sky protection and Astro-tourism, the fascinating nature of astronomy, in delivering quality education.
- The scientific contribution and role of dark skies for the development of science and technology.