TED'S ASTROPIX: TURN OUT THE LIGHTS!!!!!
I pursue my passion for Astronomy, and particularly, Astrophotography, on those fairly rare transparent nights in Central Ohio. I don't have a permanent facility in the shrinking pocket of dark skies, so I'm forced to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to create my images. Most of the time, I have to work from a snoburban site and the single greatest scourge is:
EXTREME LIGHT POLLUTION!
Here is my screed:
The caramel glow of wasteful and inefficient outdoor lighting extends some 40 degrees into the sky in every direction around the horizon. The background on this page roughly approximates the appearance of the nighttime sky from my backyard. The lights shining into my property from my neighbors' houses is also a major nuisance. How would you like it if your neighbor played heavy metal music at 120 decibels and directed it towards your house on a constant basis? Heck, neighbors of the local amphitheater, a concert venue drawing all kinds of acts, who are residents of the City of Westerville, have complained for years about the noise from performances staged at the amphitheater. The lack of concern for their quality of life on the part of the City of Columbus (where the amphitheater is located) and the owners of the venue underscore the frustration of those seeking to contain nuisances.
Light pollution is equivalent to being subjected to loud noise on a continual basis.
Lately, the City of Columbus indicated that it would permit the City of Westerville to enforce its noise ordinances against the amphitheater. Westerville proposes to amend its ordinance to allow city officials to shut down a show if the noise level exceeds certain limits.
With this much concern raised over noise pollution that affects a relatively minute number of people, it's surprising that the problems of light pollution fail to generate the same level of action.
Exterior lighting as a deterrent to crime is a hoax.
Inefficient outdoor lighting is not much different from noise pollution. It is a waste of energy and resources. It can also increase danger instead of enhancing security. In a recent criminal act against my property, the perpetrators unscrewed the light bulbs on my security lights (which are equipped with a timer and motion sensor), thereby eliminating any benefit of "security" lighting. So much for lighting as a deterrent to crime. In September, 2008, the remnants of Hurricane Ike tore through Central Ohio, leaving large parts of the city in darkness for 72 hours. The lack of outdoor lighting did not result in mass chaos, rampant crime or any other unusual mayhem. So much for the idea that greater outdoor lighting reduces crime. For a well written, scholarly article debunking this myth, see
Energy and Resources: When the electric company complained about record usage in a June, 1998, heat wave, and threatened brownouts if customers did not reduce consumption, nobody said a thing about undertaking sound conservation measures as a means of solving this problem. Full cut-off lighting conserves power, since the efficiency of the light fixture reduces the amount of kilowatt hours consumed. Air pollution (sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired electric generating plants) and acid rain could be reduced substantially. These fixtures also direct the light they produce directly on the subject, instead of horizontally directly into the eyeball. Exterior lighting, especially poorly designed streetlights, are a shocking (pun intended) subsidy of electric utilities at taxpayers' expense. It is the worst form of corporate welfare. Poorly designed streetlights waste money, needlessly consume natural resources, create road hazards, and fail to live up to promised benefits. As if to add insult to injury, we have to pay for this.
SPECIAL ALERT: July 27, 1999. Ohio utility companies beg consumers to conserve electricity during the Summer of 1999's heat wave. Once again, none of these companies suggested conserving power by replacing horribly inefficient and wasteful exterior and street light fixtures as an effective part of the solution to the problem.
Safety and Security: Fixtures that scatter light in all directions produce blinding glare. Next time you drive down a street lit by old fashioned cobra-head light fixtures, notice how the fixtures further down the street shine light directly into the eyes, reducing their sensitivity to contrasts. If another vehicle emerged from a shadowed area, would you be able to react in time? Be careful when you drive at night, especially if it's rainy. You will notice how difficult the lane lines are to see. The dangers of inefficient street lights should be apparent.
For the homeowner, if security is the chief goal of outdoor lighting, non-cutoff fixtures reduce, rather than enhance security. Turn on your security lights, then try looking through the glare. Unless your prowler is dense enough to walk right into your light, you will not be able to get a good look through the glare. Likewise, viewing a poorly lit building from the outside poses the same problem: your eyes cannot adjust to the extreme contrast between the lit and unlit areas when the glare from the fixture shines right into it.
The Solution? Turn them off. However, that's impractical since outdoor lighting is the equivalent to a blanket and teddy bear to most people. As a compromise, replace all fixtures, public and private, with fixtures featuring full cut-off design and install energy efficient lighting elements that direct 90% or more of the emitted light energy downward. This will save energy, conserve resources, and enhance security. With the light not shining directly into the eyes, the fixture does not blind the person. The eyes adjust to extreme contrast better if the illuminated area is the only thing the light is shining on.
Esthetically speaking, shotgun lighting destroys the beauty of the night sky, making observing and astrophotography difficult, if not impossible. Light pollution literally drowns out the dimmer stars and objects, like the Milky Way, Andromeda Galaxy, Lagoon Nebula in Saggitarius, the great Globular Cluster in Hercules, the Beehive open star cluster in Cancer, and many others too numerous to list. Light pollution leaves only the moon, planets and brightest of stars visible to the naked eye. There are many more treasures of the night sky that light pollution erases.
Long before television, radio, motion pictures, and the electric light, people entertained themselves by drawing pictures in the sky. With their imaginations, people created pictures of their favorite characters, and told stories about them. These legends survived down through the ages. "Hercules" has made it to TV. It's a shame that from my backyard, on an average evening in Columbus, I can barely make out the constellation Hercules to show my children.
“The stars. They really are beautiful. We never look at them anymore.” --Men in Black, 1998.
THE NIGHT SKY AND THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE ("NPS"):
The night sky has been identified as an important resource in many of the national parks. During this past decade, many parks have focused on interpreting and preserving the dark night sky. While parks have retrofitted their lighting systems to reduce light pollution, the parks are vulnerable to light sources outside of the parks. To preserve the dark skies of our parks, statewide ordinances are needed. The night sky is among 11 endangered places in New Mexico that were recently designated by the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance. Hopefully, the designation of the New Mexico night sky as an endangered place will increase public awareness and help achieve statewide protection. The night sky nomination was prepared by Jerry Rogers, Superintendent of the Intermountain Support Office, Santa Fe and Joe Sovick, Recreation and Partnerships. The nomination reads as follows.
"From the pleistocene to the present, the night sky has been an important element in cultural heritage. The combination of what appeared to be eternal order in certain night sky patterns with such
changeable things as lunar phases, planetary movements, seasonal angles of declination, and annual meteor showers was one of the early great stimuli to curiosity. The discovery of predictable order among the inconstant was important in the development of belief systems and their attendant cultural values--influencing even the idea of what it means to be human. It remains so today. Mammoth hunters at Clovis and Folsom, ancestral Puebloans at Chaco and Pecos, Vasquez de Coronado in his explorations, Fate and De Vargas in their conquests, cowboys on nightherd duty, and office workers resting from their daily toils all have lived under, admired, and wondered about the same night sky--virtually unchanged in human history. A pristine night sky almost universally stimulates thought. Some are humbled in their insignificance before the visible universe, and some are exhilarated by a sense of identification therewith.
Some measure and test the movement of our earthly platform within the solar system, the solar system within the galaxy, and the galaxy within the universe until human understanding is exhausted and calculation at its limit. Some speculate about life elsewhere, and some contemplate that the flesh, blood, and bones of our very bodies--even the energy powering our thoughts--are of the light and
substance we see coming down from the spangles above. Without conscious action it will be much more difficult for future generations to have the same experiences, or even to imagine them. As urban areas expand and change without consideration of the night sky continues, places where it can be experienced grow fewer and more difficult to reach. We risk losing a beauty that has been the backdrop to and motivator of human action since time immemorial.
Surprisingly, it costs society more to pollute the sky with light than to keep it dark. Most upwardly directed light is wasted. We pay once in the electric bill for the light that goes where it is not needed,
again in environmental degradation from emissions in generating the electricity, and again in the loss of the night sky that is masked by wasted light. The most common security lights are mercury vapor
lights, which, although the least expensive to purchase, are among the most expensive to operate. About 30% of their light goes into the sky at angles that perform no service but do contribute to light
There is no evil figure, no profiteering corporation, nor irresistible force behind the problem. Today's utility companies are environmentally conscious and interested in conserving, not wasting, energy resources. What is most lacking is public recognition of the problem, broad understanding that light pollution is not inevitable, and the will to do something about it. Fortunately costs are minimal
in preventing light pollution, especially for new developments. Costs of incorporating outdoor lighting systems friendly to the night sky are not prohibitive. Sometimes they are not costs at all.
Several years ago, when the National Park Service realized that its own mercury vapor lights near the visitor center at Chaco Culture National Historical Park were a form of pollution and removed the
lights, the park experienced a 30% reduction in the electric bill. At Chaco we learned that shielded floodlights directed downward, and properly directed motion sensors were effective in meeting visitor and security needs while serving as significant energy savers and pollution preventers.
It is not too late! New Mexico is fortunate that unimpaired remnants of the clear night sky remain. Some progressive New Mexico communities have or are developing ordinances to help preserve this exceptional visual, natural, and cultural resource. Some private developments are writing protective provisions into covenants on the deeds of the houses they build. The New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance can demonstrate its interest in EVERYONE'S heritage, show support for one of the most ancient and universal cultural values, and make a significant difference in citizen awareness and in public and private action by listing the night sky among the most threatened heritage
resources in 1998.
SOURCE: Recreation and Partnerships, Santa Fe
N.B. A legislative act should not be necessary to impose practices that are simply good business and environmental policies, and which enhance safety and beauty for all. However, if it's the only way to drive home the seriousness and halt the loss of our transnational cultural heritage, the designation should not be restricted solely to states that are fortunate enough to feature a national park. With all of the benefits that efficient outdoor lighting provides, all states should follow New Mexico's lead and implement sound outdoor lighting policies.
Kudos to Julie Partansky, the Mayor of Davis, CA! Her appreciation of the degradation of the night sky prompted her to lead the way in the fight for dark skies in her city. She spearheaded legislation passed by the City Council to replace inefficient and wasteful outdoor lighting with sky-friendly light fixtures and practices.
Click on this link to read an excellent USA Today article on her progress and concerns about the effects of light pollution from people across the country. (31 Aug 99)
Also, check out this recent CNN story about light pollution.
WARNING!! LAND DEVELOPERS' PLANS ENDANGER PERKINS OBSERVATORY!!!
March 20, 2000. As if Central Ohio needs more strip centers and dense apartment housing, the Kingman Hill district, located about 1 km south of Perkins Observatory, may be in its last throes as open space. A syndicate who wants to accelerate the change in the character of the area, annexed the land to the City of Delaware from Liberty Township in order to take advantage of a more lenient attitude towards uncontrolled growth they perceived on the part of the City of Delaware. Ohio State University abandoned the "Big Ear" radio telescope to golf course developers who dismantled the famous structure and bulldozed the site. The golf course developers aren't to blame for the Big Ear's demise, and their activites have little, if any, impact on the observatory's mission. As a matter of fact, they have been most accomodating to Perkins, allowing OWU to maintain an observatory dome on the course for use by astronomers.
OSU recently terminated its astronomical partnership with Ohio Wesleyan University, which resulted in a severe loss of funding for Perkins Observatory. Notwithstanding monetary trials and tribulations, it remains the only astronomical research facility of its kind in Central Ohio. In accordance with Professor Perkins' will, the observatory is open to the public some eight nights per month.The skies are much darker there than anywhere else within a half hour of Columbus. If the developers are successful, it is certain that the kind of cheap outdoor light fixtures typically installed in abundance by profit-minded, cost-obsessed builders will spell the end of Perkins Observatory's viability by raising the amount and duration of skyglow over the highly important southern area of the sky.
November, 2010. Ten years later, Perkins Observatory still struggles against the tide of snoburban development. Although it has successfully avoided having a big box retailer move next door, there is no guarantee that once the current economic climate becomes more favorable for real estate development, a renewed effort to build light polluting strip malls will begin. To its credit, the City of Delaware is sensitive to the cultural and scientific heritage that Perkins Observatory symbolizes, but tax revenue frequently triumphs over such considerations.
Check out the International Dark Sky Association for more info.
Enough with the sermon, show me the pics!