MARLINTON, W.Va. — Located entirely within the Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia includes some of the darkest regions of the night sky in the eastern U.S. While regions near its largest cities may be bright enough to wash out many stars, residents of more than 50 percent of the state enjoy star-spangled nights.
Where are skies the most brilliant? Based on Google Map-based dark-sky data, the most significant areas of dark skies in West Virginia occur where populations are lowest or are least concentrated and where mountain walls shut out light from cities and light sources such as surface mines and gas wells.
Thus, the largest dark sky areas occur over the hills of northwestern West Virginia and the Allegheny Mountains of the southern, eastern, and northeastern states. The darkest reaches of skies open over its highest and most remote mountain regions.
Northwestern West Virginia
This region includes large parts of Clay, Wirt, Roane, Ritchie, Gilmer, Lewis, and Braxton counties. Two very dark areas within that region are in remote areas in southern Ritchie County between Auburn and Smithville and the forests north of Rosedale in southern Gilmer County.
The Allegheny Mountains
The state's most brilliant night skies arc across the Allegheny Mountains of the eastern state. Remote peaks and vast national forest areas sink into darkness otherwise known only over the vast Atlantic Ocean.
The darkest skies in the state open over remote mountain areas within this large region. The largest deep, dark area is in the Yew Mountains north of Cranberry Glades.
Another is located above Allegheny Mountain on the Virginia border northeast of Frost. Another opens over the high Alleghenies north of Monterrey, Va., and south of Circleville and Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.
The Eastern Panhandle west of the Shenandoah Valley includes some of the darkest areas in the state, especially in its most mountainous areas in the west. The more populous Shenandoah Valley near Martinsburg, West Virginia, is part of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and is not as conducive to star-gazing, but the panhandle west of Cacapon Mountain and Shenandoah Mountain can grow very dark.
Though not designated in light pollution maps, the rugged mountains of southwestern West Virginia include many deep valleys in which light pollution is severely limited. While the region is home to many small towns, their location in narrow hollows limits the spread of their light.
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