The IAU Extended Case Studies and Dark Sky Issues

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Margaret Austin and John Hearnshaw, a one-and-half day workshop on the Extended Case Studies was held in the breathtaking setting of the Hermitage at Mount Cook, South Island, New Zealand on 14–15 June 2012.

Conference participants

LEFT TO RIGHT: Cipriano Marín (Spain); María del Rosario Martínez de Garavito (Spain), Graeme Murray (NZ); Vickie Hearnshaw (NZ); Carolyn Murray (NZ); Günther Wuchterl (Austria/Germany); Alison Loveridge (NZ); Julie Abbari (NZ); Clive Ruggles (UK); Richard Wainscoat (USA); Margaret Austin (NZ), Friedel Pas (Belgium); John Hearnshaw (NZ); Sir Edmund Hillary (not present at conference); Malcolm Smith (Chile); David Welch (Canada); Alec Boksenberg (UK); Antonia María Varela Pírez (Spain); Michel Cotte (France)


Following a directive from the IAU in 2010, members of the WG have been developing nine “extended case studies” in order to explore and clarify some of the key general issues that can arise in the particular case of astronomical heritage sites. Specific extended case studies might well facilitate the eventual preparation of a full nomination dossier should a State Party decide to prepare one, but this is not the aim of our work.

While dark sky areas cannot in themselves be recognized by UNESCO as specific types or categories of World Heritage cultural or natural property, the WG has a strong interest in how dark sky issues might best be represented within nomination dossiers for various types of astronomical heritage site. For this reason, more than half of the extended case studies relate in one way or another to such issues.

A list of the extended case studies is provided at the foot of this page.

Purpose of the meeting

  1. To review the draft extended case studies produced by WG members in the months preceding the workshop and to finalise them for presentation at the IAU GA and, if approved, for subsequent release via the AWHI web portal.
  2. To consider particularly how dark skies issues can best be represented within these case studies and any subsequent nomination dossier, in view of existing guidelines such as those developed by ICOMOS and the IAU in their Thematic Study.


Delegates discussed the various issues and length and redrafted five of the ECSs accordingly. It was decided to combine the three modern observatory sites (AURA, Mauna Kea and Canarian Observatories) into the form of a draft serial nomination entitled “ ‘Windows to the Universe’: exceptional observatory sites”.

The following resolution was adopted:

In order to advance the ‘Windows to the Universe’ concept within the Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative, the Workshop proposes:

  1. that the Extended Case Studies relating to ‘Windows to the Universe’ be revised by their authors with attention to individual agreed criteria and leading to a statement of OUV and sent to Clive Ruggles (or uploaded to the web portal) by 20 July 2012;
  2. that these Extended Case Studies be presented for approval to the IAU General Assembly in August 2012;
  3. that, subsequently, these Extended Case Studies be presented on the UNESCO-approved AWHI web portal; and
  4. that, following these other steps, these Extended Case Studies be disseminated to States Parties and other relevant bodies.

This resolution was proposed by Margaret Austin, seconded by Malcolm Smith and adopted nem. con.


A list of the extended case studies

The nine extended case studies being prepared by the WG are:

The Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

Lead author(s): Ian Glass, South African Astronomical Observatory

Particular issues raised: Extent to which value of tangible immovable heritage is strengthened by tangible moveable and intangible heritage; moving v. stationary parts; individual v. serial nomination for historical observatories

Baikonur Space Launch Facility, Kazakhstan

Lead author(s): Mikhail Marov, Russian Academy of Sciences

Particular issues raised: Relationship of science heritage to technology heritage

Seven-stone antas (Portugal and Spain)

Lead author(s): Juan Belmonte, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain, and Luís Tirapicos, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Particular issues raised: Serial nomination involving a group of prehistoric monuments whose astronomical significance is only evident from the group as a whole

Chankillo, Peru

Lead author(s): Iván Ghezzi, Pontifica Universidad Católica del Perú, Lima, Peru

Particular issues raised: Values in relation to astronomy v. wider values of related archaeological sites (in Casma valley)

Stonehenge World Heritage Site, United Kingdom

Lead author(s): Amanda Chadburn, English Heritage, Bristol, United Kingdom

Particular issues raised: Issues relating to reinscription with greater recognition of astronomical values

Star Clocks of Oman

Lead author(s): Harriet Nash, University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Particular issues raised: A modern indigenous cultural landscape with cultural practices of star observation that are threatened by the erosion of dark skies; links to other environmental issues (in this case, water management); issues relating to the re-inscription of existing WH sites with (e.g.) more explicit recognition of their astronomical values, altered boundaries and/or buffer zone, inclusion of environmental aspects such as (relatively) dark sky preservation, and preservation of significant lines of sight to horizons

Aoraki–Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand

Lead author(s): Margaret Austin, Royal Society of NZ and John Hearnshaw, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Particular issues raised: ‘Pristine’ dark-sky areas with broad cultural connections

Eastern Alpine Starlight Reserve and Großmugl Starlight Oasis, Austria

Lead author(s): Günther Wuchterl, Kuffner-Sternwarte Observatory, Vienna, Austria

Particular issues raised: Relatively dark dark-sky areas with few or no direct cultural connections

Windows to the Universe: leading optical observatories (Chile, USA and Spain)

Lead author(s): Malcolm Smith, Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory, Chile; Richard Wainscoat, Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii, USA; and Cipriano Marín, Starlight Foundation, Spain

Particular issues raised: Modern observatory sites under direct threat from light pollution; relevance of cultural associations and indigenous practices that may support or act counter to preserving any given observatory and its dark skies

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