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
daniel.mendoza@utah.edu

CMP Main Office: 
801-581-8255
ARCH 220

CA+P Student Success Center:
advisor@arch.utah.edu
801-585-6523
ARCH 130

Admission

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)

Electives

Students are required to take 9 credit hours of electives. Electives not on the approved list 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)

This course will look 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 field work, 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.

This course builds on concepts introduced in CMP 3850 (Dark Sky Studies: Lightscapes) by focusing on how our personal relationship with the night creates emergent systems of connections at multiple scales throughout the globe. Students will examine specific case studies of these connections in-depth and in so doing will gain interdisciplinary knowledge and skills in astronomy, biology, anthropology, engineering, and policy-making. At the core of this course are 2 main community-engaged projects. In collaboration with Salt Lake City and an additional Utah based community, students will design, conduct, and present work related to the challenges of maintaining a quality nighttime environment. 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.

Coming soon.

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.

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