Hampton Plantation & Lowcountry Stargazers

“Far rushing as a lordly storm of fi re through the mighty skies; we feel thy mute, majestic charm with rapture, awe, and wild surmise.” Archibald Rutledge

These are the words of Lowcountry resident Archibald Rutledge, SC’s first Poet Laureate. He wrote this in his poem about Halley’s Comet. Our skies have certainly changed a lot since Rutledge occupied his family’s ancestral plantation in the 1930s.

Where once the Milky Way was easily visible to the naked eye, now light pollution from ever-expanding development have made it difficult to pick out more than Orion’s Belt. But some places along Highway 17 can still get that view of the galaxy – including Hampton Plantation State Historic Site. Hampton has one of the darkest skies in SC and is a prime location for checking out the Milky Way and constellations on the coast!

Hampton Plantation is in the process of becoming a certified International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) with the International Dark Sky Association (IDSA). An IDSP is defined as “land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment, and that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, and/or cultural heritage resources, and/or for public enjoyment.”

Dark Sky Parks protects this beautiful resource by reducing light pollution, promoting astro-tourism and astronomers of all levels, and connecting with the community to help educate about conserving the night sky.  Darkness of the night sky can be measured with devices called Sky Quality Meters, which use sensors to detect light. The measurements are taken in magnitudes per square arc seconds, or mps as. The higher the value, the darker the sky. A measurement of sixteen mps as indicates the kind of light pollution typically found in a city like Myrtle Beach. Hampton measures at over twenty mps as – a reading that’s comparable to Death Valley National Park!  Hampton is also working on further reducing its own light pollution with a Lighting Management Plan. Together with the community and organizations like IDSA, they are hard at work preserving the view Archibald Rutledge called “a dream of silver and silence and soul.”

Hampton has partnered with Lowcountry Stargazers, a local astronomy group, to introduce and educate visitors about sights of the night sky – things like globular clusters and Saturn’s rings.  It’s amazing the number of stars that are visible! Opportunities for visitors to view the stars and learn about protecting dark skies are being planned as this issue heads to press.  See Lowcountry’s Calendar of Events about Hampton’s event on June 8!

Kimberly Duncan