The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning

Dark Sky Studies Minor

Dark Sky Studies is an emerging transdisciplinary field that explores the impacts of artificial light at night and the loss of our night skies through a broad range of disciplines. Light pollution—excessive use of artificial light at night—poses environmental and safety threats, and it also prevents us from seeing the starry sky at night. Utah is unique, globally, in both its protection of natural dark-sky places and its intense urban light pollution generating urban core; combined, Utah’s rural starry skies and urban over-lighting are an ideal living laboratory for place-based exploration. 

The Dark Sky Studies (DSS) Minor Program includes courses and faculty from multiple disciplines at the University of Utah: anthropology, architecture, astronomy, atmospheric sciences, design, engineering, english, history, philosophy, physics, public health, pulmonary medicine, religion, urban planning and more. The Minor program is housed in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning (College of Architecture + Planning) but is designed to include undergraduate students from across campus. 

DSS students will explore issues through scientific, humanist and public policy lenses, particularly the negative impacts of artificial light, as well as endeavor to characterize community needs and innovation opportunities inherent in the effort of protecting natural night. 

Contact Us

DSS Minor Program Coordinator:
Daniel Mendoza

CMP Main Office: 
ARCH 220

CA+P Student Success Center:
ARCH 130


To enter the minor, a student must first meet with an Academic Success Advisor for review and approval of the courses to be applied to the minor.

Required Courses

CMP3850: Dark Sky Studies: Lightscapes (3) 
CMP3851: Dark Sky Studies: Nightscapes (3) 
CMP4282: Dark Sky Studies: Capstone (3)


Students are required to take 9 credit hours of electives. Electives not on the approved list (including internships and independent study) require pre-approval from the Minor Program Coordinator.

ART1050 – Non-Major Darkroom Photography (3)
ANTH 4461 – Behavioral Ecology and Anthropology  (3)
ANTH 4186 – Human Ecology (3)
ASTR1060/PHYS1060 – The Universe (3)
ASTR1050/PHYS1050/GEO1080 – The Solar System (3)
ASTR2500/PHYS2500 – Foundations of Astronomy (3)
ASTR4060/PHYS4060 – Observational Astronomy for Scientists  (3)
ATMOS 3100 – Atmospheric Chemistry and Air Pollution (3)
BIOL3460 – Global Environmental Issues (3)
BIOL5440 – Urban Ecology (3)
COMM1535 – Basic Digital Photography (4)
COMM4360 – Consuming the Earth
COMM5360 – Environmental Communication (3)
ECON3250 – Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics  (3)
ECON5260 – Energy Policy Options of Utah  (3)
ENVST2050 – Introduction to Environmental and Sustainability Science (4)

ENVST3720/SBS3270 – Environmental Health Disparities (3)
ENVST3365 – Environmental Justice (3)
ENGL2225 – Science Fiction  (3)
ENGL2500 – Introduction to Creative Writing (3)
ENGL3080 – Studies in Environmental Literature (3)
ENGL3510 – Writing Fiction (3)
ENGL3520 – Writing Poetry (3)
ENGL3530 – Writing Nonfiction (3)

GEO1050 – National Parks: Geology Behind the Scenery
GEOG1001 – Energy Resources in a Sustainable World (3)

GEOG1005 – Earth Environments and Global Change Lab (2)
GEOG3110 – The Earth from Space: Introduction to Remote Sensing (3)
GEOG3330 – Urban Environmental Geography (3)
GEOG3368/ENVST3368 – Energy Choices for the 21st Century (3)
GEOG5110 – Environmental Analysis Through Remote Sensing  (3)
HIST4085 – History of Technology (3)
HIST4380 – U.S. Environmental History (3)
MG EN2400 – Introductory Surveying (3)
PBHL5710 – The Loss of Dark Skies: Public Health Implications of Artificial Light (3)
PHIL1003 – Intro: Philosophy and Human Nature (3)
PHIL1250 – Reasoning and Rational Decision Making (3)
PHIL3300 – Theory of Knowledge (3)
PHIL3310 – Science and Society (3)
PHIL3350 – History and Philosophy of Science (3)
PHIL3530 – Environmental Ethics (3)
POLS5322 – Environmental & Sustainability Policy  (3)
PRTL1150 – Natural Resources Learning: Nature Photography (3)
PRTL1258 – Day Hikes and Dark Skies (2)
PRT5480 – The Business of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (3)
PRT5680 – Parks and Community Relations (3)
PRT5855  – Seminar in Sustainable Tourism and Ecotourism (3)
PRT5875 – Sustainable Tourism and Protected Area Management (3)
PSY3620/FCS3620 – Environmental Psychology and Sustainability (3)
SOC3840 – Environmental Sociology (3)
WRTG 2310 – Digital Writing (3)

Course Description

Lightscapes looks at the challenges and opportunities for mitigating problems associated with light pollution and our exposure to artificial light. From better lighting design to the need for developing new environmental policies that regulate the over-use of artificial light, this course will explore ways that a new generation of practitioners in multiple fields can address the global challenge of light pollution. Students will learn about the emerging research on artificial light exposure and its impact on human health, animal health, public safety, and our loss of access to the night skies in the majority of the developed world. The course will include some fieldwork, including learning how to use new drone technology to measure lighting impacts in communities inside and outside of Salt Lake City.

Examples of Course Activities

Self Portrait: Students create a self-portrait about their lives and relationship to their environment.

Memory of the Night Sky: Students recall a treasured memory of the night sky and express it through a poem, artwork, interpretive dance, or another creative form.

Ancestral Cultural Artefact/Monument: Students research an ancestral/cultural monument to explore the relationships between humanity, the sky, and the cosmos. 

Measuring Light: Students learn and practice taking different lighting measurements. 

Document Uses of Light: Students document personal daily light use.

Understanding Users & Function of Light: Students gather and analyze qualitative and quantitative data for a specific site, including, user feedback, visual comfort, transitions, glare, wayfinding, sense of safety, illuminance, SQM, satellite, and images of skyglow.

Readings and Discussion about the historical context of lighting, the intersection of safety and lighting, and the economics of lighting.

Student work can be found here.

Course Description

Nightscapes builds on the concepts introduced in CMP 3850 (Dark Sky Studies: Lightscapes) by furthering the students understanding of the anthropological, biological, astronomical, etc. connections to the night sky. At the core of this course are 2 community-engaged projects; currently the two communities are Salt Lake City and Helper, Utah, which is working towards becoming a Dark Sky Community. In the Spring 2020 semester, students traveled to Helper, Utah, and engaged with the community at public meetings and through elected officials as well as develop projects specifically relevant to the community. Students measured perceived and measured sky quality at different points in the town and compared this to luminance measurements off of nearby artificial light sources.

Examples of Course Assignments

Cosmology Across Cultures: Students explore and present on cultures with cosmological traditions

Case Studies: This assignment was done over the course of several weeks, starting with developing project proposals up through presenting on the findings of collected data

Visioning Assignment: With the advent of Covid-19, students were unable to prepare and carry out projects in Salt Lake City, instead student groups developed visions of what the city would be like without the current levels of light pollutions, this included exploring emerging technologies and methods of mitigating light pollution.

Ethan Shaw

A Moon Garden in Rose Park, Abby Riley

Course Description

The Capstone Dark Sky Studies course will allow students to put into practice knowledge and laboratory skills gained from CMP 3850 “Lightscapes” (pre-requisite) & 3851 “Nightscapes” (co-requisite) to complete a semester-long project. Students will work in 3 groups (Basic Science, Creative Communication, and Policy) to develop a project aimed at identifying, understanding, and conveying results of a topic focused on Dark Sky Studies. This is a 3-credit hour course that also fulfills the community engaged learning (CEL) and sustainability (SUSTL) GE requirements.

Course Assignment

The semester-long project will develop student perspectives related to the impact of lighting on the chosen study setting. Possible study settings include the campus of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City or another urban area, and rural communities. The students will work closely with community leaders and stakeholders to understand their concerns and collaboratively formulate a data gathering, analysis, and policy development plan, including potential opportunities for plan execution.

Affiliated Faculty

Marc Bodson, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Cord Bowen, Multidisciplinary Design
Kelly Bricker, Parks, Recreation & Tourism
Amy BronsonFilm & Media Arts
Erin Carraher, Architecture
Katharine Coles, English
Vellachi Ganesan, City & Metropolitan Planning
Stacy Harwood, City & Metropolitan Planning
Tucker Hermans, Computing
David Kieda, Physics and Astronomy
Kam Leang, Mechanical Engineering
Kate Magargal, Anthropology, City & Metropolitan Planning
Daniel MendozaAtmospheric Sciences, City and Metropolitan Planning, Pulmonary Medicine
Anil Chandra Seth, Physics & Astronomy
Greg Smoak, History, American West Center
Jim Vanderslice, Public Health

• Communicate with others about light pollution, its ecological impacts, human health impacts, and the history of artificial light.

• Apply knowledge of sky motion, celestial mechanics, and functionality of telescopes to observe the night sky.

• Measure the quantity and quality of light, assess existing lighting, calculate energy costs, and design new lighting.

• Comprehend the challenges and opportunities of light pollution and protecting dark skies from a scientific, humanist and public policy perspective.

• Assess and critique current practices of artificial lighting and advocate for better practices for meeting a spectrum of lighting objectives at night.

• Develop community engagement skills, including collecting stakeholder input and matching community needs with the project and design deliverables regarding light pollution.

• Reflect on the human connection with the night sky in diverse cultural contexts.

• Integrate transdisciplinary knowledge from the humanities, the arts, physical, social, and health sciences, to tackle the large scale challenge of retaining Utah’s dark skies.