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Student working to protect Brazil’s starry skies

Vitor Barbato Honorato, the first DarkSky International delegate in Brazil, is studying tourism and conducting research on astrotourism and dark skies.

Star trails over Brazil by Vitor Barbato Honorato.

In his third year at São Paulo State University (UNESP), the campus of Rosana, in Brazil, Vitor Barbato Honorato is studying tourism and conducting studies about astrotourism and dark skies. He’s also the first DarkSky International delegate in Brazil, and together with several biologists and astronomers, he recently helped establish a working group called Ceus Estrelados do Brasil or Brazil’s Starry Skies.

Honorato grew up in São Paulo, which is Brazil’s largest and most light-polluted city. He couldn’t see the stars from home, but when he traveled with his parents to places with dark skies, he noticed the stark difference. Today, from his rural university campus in Rosana, he appreciates being able to see the night sky and the Milky Way from his backyard.

Vitor in one of his favorite places – Morro da Boa Vista.

Interested in astronomy from a young age, Honorato wants to work in astrotourism because it is an undeveloped field in Brazil that will allow him to work in many different places. At first, his interest led him to investigate space tourism like SpaceX, but he got frustrated with that type of research because he didn’t feel like it would make a difference to society. This led him to start looking at astrotourism possibilities on Earth. Using light pollution maps and light intensity meters, his current research project is focused on identifying areas of Brazil with strong potential for developing astrotourism opportunities and preventing light pollution. He’s particularly interested in looking at natural areas like quilombos (rural settlements) as well as national and state parks. He believes these areas are opportune for astrotourism, and he thinks this budding industry can benefit everyone involved — as he puts it, in communities that promote astrotourism, “the environment wins, the economy wins, and the residents win.”

Comet NEOWISE by Vitor Barbato Honorato.

Some members of the working group Honorato is involved in, Brazil’s Starry Skies, are also planning to conduct research to help bring attention to the issue of light pollution in the country. They recently submitted a research proposal to the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development to monitor Brazil’s night skies and research the incidence of light pollution in the country. The goal of the working group is to conduct research, educate, and inspire action in Brazil to protect dark skies as a valuable natural resource.

Although Honorato says that science is not as appreciated as it should be in Brazil by its governing politicians and astronomy is not easily accessible in the country, he believes that it is ripe for astrotourism. With a rich natural environment dotted with mountains and lakes, it is possible to see the night sky from many unique landscapes in Brazil. Although it is almost impossible to buy a telescope in Brazil, Honorato says that interest in astronomy is starting to grow and people are beginning to notice and appreciate the night sky.

The Milky Way over Brazil by Vitor Barbato Honorato.

The undergraduate student first connected with DarkSky International when he was writing a paper for one of his university courses. After reading all of the information on the DarkSky website and realizing that his country did not have a DarkSky delegate, Honorato decided he wanted to do something about it. While his attempts to reach out to local government officials about light pollution have been frustrating, he’s been inspired by interactions he’s had with other people in his community. He says that when he meets someone who doesn’t know anything about light pollution, there’s a great opportunity to educate them about dark skies and help them understand how to help protect this valuable natural resource in Brazil.