Protecting the night sky on Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau – Xinhua

The photo shows the night view of Lenghu area, northwest China’s Qinghai Province. (Photo provided to Xinhua)

XINING, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) — Northwest China’s Qinghai Province has approved the country’s first local regulation to protect the night sky in Lenghu, where China is building an astronomical observation site world class.

The regulation will come into effect on January 1, 2023. The observation site in Lenghu City, on the north side of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, will have two designated dark preservation zones, a central dark zone and a buffer zone, to ensure its optical viewing environment at night.

In the core area with a radius of 50 km, the type and brightness of light resources will be strictly controlled. The direction of illumination of all exterior fixed lights shall be 30 degrees below the horizontal line. Planning and construction projects and carrying out activities that will affect astronomical observation are prohibited in the Core Zone.

In the buffer zone, the direction of any fixed exterior lighting must be less than the horizontal line. The settlement also establishes restrictions on geological exploration, sightseeing and other activities in the area.

“Astronomical observing conditions in China’s important astronomical city need to be planned and protected from a legal standpoint. I’m glad to see Lenghu making solid progress,” said Liu Boyang, an astrophysicist who traveled to Lenghu several times.

As the highest plateau on Earth, the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau offers exceptional opportunities for astronomy and particle astrophysics.

The photo shows a “Mars campsite” in Lenghu City, northwest China’s Qinghai Province. Chinese scientists are building the Wide Field Survey Telescope in the city, known for its Martian-like landscape and climate. (Photo provided to Xinhua)

In 2021, Chinese astronomers reported in the journal Nature about their three-year tracking of a local peak on Saishiteng Mountain in Lenghu. They said the region was an ideal place to build an astronomical observatory due to its advantages of clear night skies, stable atmospheric conditions and a dry climate.

So far, nine optical astronomical telescope projects have been installed in Lenghu, with an investment of nearly 2 billion yuan (about 310 million U.S. dollars).

The Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST), a leading optical telescope project in China, will also move from northern Hebei province to Lenghu for better performance.

The idea of ​​preserving the night sky also goes beyond astronomical observation. In recent years, more and more people have realized that light pollution is depriving most city dwellers of the ability to see the constellations and the Milky Way, affecting the physical and psychological health of humans and animals, and disrupting ecosystems.

In 2013, China began building its first Dark Sky Preserves in Ngari and Nagqu in the Tibet Autonomous Region to preserve the night sky and educate visitors about the emerging problem of light pollution. In 2018, the two dark sky parks were certified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.