Spokesperson Raul Elias-Drago said obtaining dark sky park status will be a good first step towards the ultimate goal of becoming a dark sky reserve.
‘‘We can use it to generate momentum and then continue the conversation with the council and local businesses, generate some funds and come back to addressing the lighting in the township.’’
A dark sky reserve would include the conservation area as the core and the township and surrounding area as the periphery.
Elias-Drago said there are questions around lighting in the town and changes to the Waimakariri District Plan may need to be considered.
Good lighting policies could reduce light pollution, improve melatonin levels in humans and improve animal welfare, he said.
A study commissioned by Enterprise North Canterbury, the district council’s economic development arm, earlier this year suggested a dark sky reserve could generate $5.4 million in additional spending in the town and create up to 24 jobs.
The newly formed Oxford Dark Sky Group has more than 20 member organisations, including the council, Department of Conservation, the Oxford Promotions Action Committee (representing local businesses) and local schools, community groups and sports clubs.
The group was able to buy a dark sky reader thanks to a $500 grant from the Oxford-Ohoka Community Board.
Elias-Drago said dark sky readings of magnitude 21.2 or higher were needed to support the application.
Stellar magnitude is what astronomers use to measure the brightness of a star or an object in space. The brighter the object, the lower the magnitude.
The sun has an apparent magnitude of -27, while Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, has -1.46.
Venus at its brightest is -5 and the International Space Station can reach a magnitude of -6.
Most people can see up to magnitude 6 with the naked eye on a clear night.
A magnitude of 21.2 is optimum for stargazing, as the sky is dark enough to see distant objects and get a clear view of the centre of the Milky Way through a telescope.
The Oxford Dark Sky Group has already had success, winning the group category in the inaugural Waimakariri Zone Committee's environmental awards in October.
The Waimakariri Zone Committee is a joint committee of Environment Canterbury and the Waimakariri District Council.
By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter
■Public interest journalism funded through New Zealand on Air.