A study conducted by the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia concludes that 42% of its surface maintains conditions that would make it eligible for the highest quality certifications, and 11% possesses exceptional conditions that are difficult to find elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula.
Astrotourism & Granada Geopark
Why does the Geopark of Granada have excellent potential to be an astrotourism destination?
The Geopark of Granada is a landscape of nature, culture, history, and stars. The dark night sky conditions in the area make it an exceptional place for astronomical observation, both for professionals and enthusiasts, in contrast to large cities where excessive light pollution hinders the enjoyment of this natural heritage. In fact, the province of Granada is home to a significant number of professional astronomical observatories distributed throughout different regions, such as the Sierra Nevada Professional Observatory, La Alpujarra Professional Observatory, La Sagra-Geopark de Granada Professional Observatory, and even the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, which is located in our province.
For the practice of astronomical observation, the following conditions are necessary:
The territory of the Geopark of Granada meets these conditions, making it highly potential to become an astrotourism destination. Thanks to the extensive territory it encompasses, the dispersion of its municipalities, and the small size of most of them, there are ample areas where the dark night sky favors the practice of this activity.
How does Astronomical Tourism benefit the Geopark?
Plan to transform the Geopark into an astrotourism destination:
For the authors of this work, Susana Martín-Ruiz, researcher at IAA-CSIC and coordinator of the study, and Máximo Bustamante Calabria, technician at IAA-CSIC, the main objective has been to obtain a comprehensive diagnosis of the sky quality in the Geopark, which serves as a reference for decision-making regarding night lighting. With this study, the OCC provides the Provincial Council of Granada and the municipalities of the Geopark with an assessment of the impact of their outdoor lighting, helping them make decisions to effectively reduce light pollution.
The work consisted of studying the light emissions from urban areas, using a methodology that combines ground brightness measurements in different filters with remote data obtained from various sources, including satellites (VIIRS, JL1, and SDGSAT-1) and photographs taken from the ISS (International Space Station). This study is one of the pioneering works in the use of images from all available satellites to date for this type of research. Thanks to the remote image calibration carried out by Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel (from the Complutense University of Madrid, a member of the OCC and co-author of this work), the light pollution sources were characterized and compared with public lighting inventories.
In addition, a geostatistical analysis was performed, and a series of sky brightness maps were created using measurements from the ground and space in different filters. The color maps provided by measuring brightness in different bands allowed for qualitative and quantitative evaluation of light pollution in the Geopark.
Indeed, between 2012 and 2021, there has been an increase in emissions: the proliferation of private infrastructure, excessive lighting at entrances to municipalities, brightly lit roundabouts, illumination of churches, facades of public buildings or monuments during nighttime hours with no traffic.
However, despite the increase in light pollution in the region, the study by the Institute of Astrophysics concludes that 42% of its surface maintains conditions that would make it eligible for the highest quality certifications, and 11% possesses exceptional conditions that are difficult to find elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula. That is why it is crucial to reverse the growing trend of light pollution in this territory. This requires a continued focus on awareness-raising actions (points 4, 5, 6, and 7).
The purpose of this program is to awaken students’ interest in astronomy and the importance of having clean and light pollution-free skies that allow for the enjoyment of star and planet observation. Through the use of resources and simple tools, a set of activities has been implemented with the following objectives:
Information and awareness-raising actions are carried out targeting local administrations to make them aware of the importance of preserving the cleanliness of the night skies in the area, without emitting excessive light pollution. In collaboration with the energy office, advice is provided to municipalities regarding suitable outdoor lighting, allowing them to plan public lighting in a way that ensures safety in towns and cities while minimizing potential harm to the natural nighttime environment. This guarantees respect for nature in these privileged areas.
A program of training initiatives aimed at professionals in the tourism sector, with a special focus on ecotourism. The objective is to adapt the services of tourism companies in the region to meet the growing demand in the field of astronomical ecotourism, expanding and diversifying their offerings with a new business niche. The aim is to provide these professionals with basic knowledge on:
Simultaneously, efforts are underway to develop a program of knowledge and awareness targeting the general population in the Geopark territory, with the aim of strengthening the community’s connection to this valuable rural resource—a resource that is difficult to observe and enjoy in urban environments—and fostering interest in astronomy.
Through simple actions such as gathering people in a public square and switching off municipal lights, accompanied by a brief explanation about light pollution, awareness can be raised about the stark difference one experiences when gazing at a clear night sky and the repercussions of improper lighting on wildlife, health, and more.