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Somewhere, out in the sky above, are stars.  But due to light pollution, even at night, many of us cannot see more than a handful. And where there is a problem — generally speaking — someone, somehow, forms an cause-based organization to fix it.  Light pollution is no exception.  In 1988, an astronomer teamed up with a doctor to form the International Dark-Sky Association, which advocates for the “proper” use of lighting in a way which allows for full viewing of the heavens. To advance their cause, the IDA gives out special designations to areas which meet their rather rigid criteria. Many of these areas are mostly uninhabited, but not all of them. One, in particular, is the island of Sark.

Only two square miles in area, Sark is a tiny island in the English Channel which, as a “crown dependency,” is neither part of the United Kingdom nor sovereign. Roughly 600 people live on Sark, with approximately fifteen of them being the only people in the world who speak Sercquiais, a Norman dialect. (The official languages are English and French.) For 443 years, Sark had a political system based in Norman feudal law, making it, one of the last (if not the last) feudal governments in Europe.   That all changed in 2008, when legal action by David and Federick Barclay — billionaire brothers who own, among other things, a collection of European newspaper companies — spurred the island to reform its government to require that all but two officials be elected.  There are no public lamp posts and the island is car-free — the only motorized vehicles permitted are tractors, battery-powered buggies, and motorized bicycles for elderly residents.  Even a Sark ambulance is not self-propelled — as seen below, it is a mere attachment to a tractor.

Because of its relative isolation and its lack of cars and lamp posts, Sark is unusually dark at night.  With the help of the IDA, the darkness increased. Over a year, the island worked with IDA experts at limiting even the already low amount of light allowed to escape into the night sky — with incredible success.  The IDA honored Sark’s achievement in January of 2011, making it the first Dark Sky Island, and Europe’s only IDA award recipient.

The collaboration of darkness allows for breathtaking views of the sky, as seen here.

Bonus fact: Sark is also home to, arguably, the stupidest invasion attempt in human history.  In 1990, André Gardes, an unemployed French nuclear physicist, came to Sark armed with a semi-automatic weapon with hopes of overthrowing the feudal government and taking control of the island himself. Given that Sark has only a volunteer constable (who does not carry a weapon), Gardes had a fighting chance. However, his plan was less than stellar. One night, Gardes placed posters around the island announcing his intention to take the island over the following day at noon. He waited, sitting on a bench, for noon to arrive — when he decided (or, according to some, was convinced) to change his gun’s magazine. The constable was there to arrest him, ending the one-man siege of Sark.

From the Archives: The Principality of Sealand: An abandoned sea fort off the coast of England which is, in the minds of the family which now inhabits it, at least, an independent nation.

Related: “NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe” by Terence Dickinson, “acclaimed as the best general interest introduction to astronomy.” Five stars on 78 reviews.

Originally published

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