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Dark Sky Adventures: WVU Planetarium partners with WV Department of Tourism


West Virginia has some of the darkest skies around, which often goes unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of our everyday life. The WVU Planetarium and Observatory has a special interest in preserving the beauty and clarity of the night sky.  

Jason Ybarra

Every year the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) holds a weeklong event called International Dark Sky Week (IDSW) that celebrates dark skies while also raising awareness around the harms and realities of light pollution. The West Virginia Department of Tourism, an outreach partner of IDA, contacted WVU Planetarium Director, Dr. Jason E. Ybarra (left), inquiring if the planetarium had any materials or information on sky brightness levels in the state. They were running a campaign to promote stargazing in West Virginia, and serendipitously the WVU Planetarium was developing an initiative to create more educational content around IDSW.  After a few conversations, a partnership was created. 

This ideal partnership, Dark Sky Adventures, focuses on promoting the natural beauty of West Virginia’s dark skies, while sharing information about light pollution, in an effort to educate the public. Dr. Ybarra and WVU Physics and Astronomy graduate student, Susannah Paine, created a video on star gazing that was posted on the WV Department of Tourism’s website perfectly placed among other content like tips for observing the moon, astrophotography, stargazing tips and tricks, and more. Later this summer, Dr. Ybarra’s team will be creating more content and they have plans to develop a citizen science project focused on the state of West Virginia.

Planetarium presentation        

The WVU Planetarium and Observatory. Image credit West Virginia University.

Susannah Paine (pictured below), writer of the script for the video, is a planetarium graduate teaching assistant, whose duties include developing educational materials for use in and out of the planetarium. 

Susannah Paine

Her educational service is continued evidence of the importance of graduate students in furthering the educational mission of the university. 

Secretary of Tourism for West Virginia, Chelsea Ruby, expressed their appreciation for the unique partnership with the WVU Planetarium. 

“With more and more travelers looking to escape the crowds for a peaceful retreat, stargazing has become a sought after experience,” said the West Virginia Tourism Secretary. “Since we’re a day’s drive away from two-thirds of the U.S. population – and we have dark skies in every corner of the state, West Virginia is perfectly positioned for travelers to come see the stars from one of the darkest spots on the East Coast. We are so grateful to Dr. Ybarra for putting together a resource that is sure to help travelers learn how to stargaze when they take their trips around Almost Heaven.” 

“With more and more travelers looking to escape the crowds for a peaceful retreat, stargazing has become a sought after experience.” Chelsey RUby, WV Secretary for Tourism

Along with digital media, content was created for social media platforms as well, with both the WV Department of Tourism and the WVU Planetarium sharing content together around the IDSW initiative and promoting the state’s natural stargazing treasures.  

“Partnering with the Department of Tourism is a great way for the WVU Planetarium to engage a larger audience and continue extending our educational mission to the entire state,” states Dr. Ybarra. Both parties were excited about the outcome. 

As an R1 institution, the WVU Planetarium takes its mission of education and outreach to the forefront. It continues to be a producer of content for outreach and education for the state of West Virginia and beyond.  Promoting the state through education and outreach projects validates the critical need for the WVU Planetarium and the outreach related content it produces.

Lauren Hough, the lead director from the WV Dept. of Tourism, commented on the partnership stating, “this also presents an opportunity to engage the public in a citizen science project to produce a WV Dark Sky Map.”  

“We know how special our dark skies are in the Mountain State and we hope to share that with others.”

About the WVU Planetarium: For more than 30 years, the planetarium at West Virginia University has given Morgantown and the surrounding communities a glimpse into worlds beyond our own. Sitting atop White Hall, the planetarium has served thousands of people each year, including hundreds of WVU students. It's mission is to serve the state-wide West Virginia community by connecting people to the Universe.


Contact: Holly Legleiter

Public Relations Coordinator

Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology, West Virginia University