International Dark Sky Park
1800 Island Road
Harkers Island, NC, 28531
Cape Lookout National Seashore is located off the coast of Carteret County, North Carolina, and consists of three natural barrier islands that are a total of 56 miles long and encompass 29,000 acres of land and water. The Seashore is a low, narrow ribbon of sand running from Ocracoke Inlet on the northeast to Beaufort Inlet to the southwest. The barrier islands consist of wide, bare beaches with low dunes covered by scattered grasses, flat grasslands bordered by dense vegetation, and large expanses of salt marsh alongside the sound. Wind, waves, and currents are continually at work reshaping the low-lying islands. In this environment, only the most tenacious plants can survive. Yet, up above, Cape Lookout provides outstanding dark skies with minimal light pollution. Measurements of night sky brightness with the Unihedron Sky Quality Meter reveal that on the barrier islands the zenith brightness is 21.4 magnitudes/arcsecond2 while the mainland Visitors Center area is 21.2 magnitudes/arcsecond2 — ideal conditions for viewing the Milky Way with the unaided eye.
The Seashore manages a Visitors Center located at the end of Harkers Island. All areas of the Seashore are open and have public access 24 hours a day. The islands can be accessed by four ferries (one operated by the Seashore) or by private vessel. The Visitors Center is accessible by the road that runs the length of Harkers Island.
Since January 2020, members of the Crystal Coast Stargazers host outreach activities on behalf of Cape Lookout National Seashore to educate the community and stakeholders on the following topics: 1) the process that Cape Lookout National Seashore completed to become an International Dark Sky Park; 2) the importance of preserving our night skies; and 3) methods and practices to reduce light pollution. Additionally, Cape Lookout National Seashore is establishing a YouTube channel that will provide videos from presentations and other topics related to preserving night skies. Cape Lookout’s other partner, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, will be including outreach activities on preserving the night skies during education programs they have throughout the year.
Additionally, Core Sound demonstrated its commitment to preserving the night skies above Cape Lookout by replacing its Metal Halide parking lot fixtures with fully-shielded 3000K LED and FSA-approved Autobahn ATB2 fixtures, along with timers to turn off the lights four hours after dusk. Each pole has a sign alerting visitors of the timed session to help protect night skies. There are also permanent signs outside of the parking lot and inside the Park that educate visitors on the specifications and reasoning for the lighting retrofit.
Click here to find ideal environmental conditions for viewing the night sky at Cape Lookout National Seashore (34.62324,-76.52479). Don’t forget to plan your trip during the new moon and astronomical twilight to enhance the viewing experience!