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Astrotourism Helps Build Stairway to the Heavens
Travel

Astrotourism Helps Build Stairway to the Heavens

Since time immemorial, humanity has looked up to the skies in search of answers and doing so has been greeted with a sight that, to this day, astounds even people who have dedicated their entire professional careers to studying it: A sky blanketed with billions upon billions of stars.
Of course, humanity’s evolutionary fear of the dark, which eventually led to the invention of the light bulb, has made scouting the night sky a near-impossible task in major cities and even some far-flung villages.
In fact, according to a study published last month by Italian researchers, more than a third of the planet cannot even catch a glimpse of the galaxy due to the severity of light pollution on Earth—a situation which Fabio Falchi, the lead author of the study, said was a “cultural loss of unprecedented magnitude”.
The Milky Way, which has inspired astronomers, artists, musicians and poets for centuries, may soon become a distant memory for much of humanity.
In efforts to keep “the boogeyman hiding in the dark” at bay, humanity is on the verge of depriving itself of one of nature’s most appealing sights, which makes astrotourism, a type of ecotourism for witnessing astrological events, all the more important.

  Topographically Blessed
Vast plains in Iran’s Central Plateau and seemingly endless mountain chains in the north and west have gifted Iran with prime locations for astrotourism, a fact that is gradually dawning on the denizens of the country.
People’s—especially the younger generation’s—affinity for traveling to natural locations, humanity’s innate desire to look at and learn about the sky, and propagation of science through the media in Iran have helped foster the potential for astrotourism.
A quick search on the Internet will yield countless tour packages that take people to out-of-the-way locations, such as Dasht-e Kavir and Lut Desert (which is being considered for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List) for a clear, unobstructed view of the night sky and the Milky Way.
There is an abundance of tours in mid-August, usually around the 12th, when the Perseids meteor shower reaches its peak.
Valley of the Stars in Qeshm Geopark, Se-Qaleh Observatory in South Khorasan, Shahdad Desert in Kerman, Takht-e-Soleyman in West Azarbaijan and Touran National Park in Semnan are just but a few locations known for offering great views of the night sky.
Iran’s wealth of locations for astrotourism and growing demand among the youth have prompted a handful of tour management schools to include astrotourism in their curricula for tour guides, and even spawned astronomical festivals (known as AstroFest) in Bushehr, which was held twice, in 2010 and 2012, according to an article in Jamejamonline.ir.

  Arrested Development
The success of the festival prompted the organizers to think big and consider making it an international event, which would have helped draw thousands of tourists to Iran, had the authorities actually supported the event.
The festival has not been held in four years.
In addition to a lack of support from the authorities, the worsening light pollution in Iran is gradually eating into areas that are normally used for stargazing.
This is while some countries, such as Sweden, Norway and the US, have begun establishing what is known as Dark Sky Parks; sites in remote locations that offer clear views of the sky.
Complying with the standards of the International Dark-Sky Association, these sites provide basic amenities in areas free of light pollution to tourists looking to catch an unhindered view of the moon and stars, and maybe even the Milky Way.
History has shown that Iran lets opportunities pass it by, only to see them seized by its neighboring countries.
Iran is now in a position to take the lead and establish the Middle East’s first Dark Sky Park and capitalize on its potential for astrotourism.

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