Light Pollution

Hello Darkness, my old friend

Well, maybe. In most places, there's so little real darkness folks have forgotten what it's like. Whole generations are growing up having never seen the Milky Way. Go ahead, take a survey of your friends, your kids, your mom, the man-on-the-street. Chances are they wouldn't know their home galaxy from a chocolate bar. Light pollution, as a result of urban growth, is destroying our view of the Universe.

But now there's a move afoot to change all this. Astronomers everywhere are affected and, short of shooting out the street-lamps, they're beginning to mobilize. Dave Crawford, an astronomer at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, gives the problem perspective:

"I see this as an environmental issue, just like saving grizzly bears or preventing forest fires," Crawford says. "Trying to observe the stars through the glow of urban haze is like taking a walk in the Grand Canyon and being surrounded by trash."

The solution to the problem, of course, is just to get people to be sensitive to it. That's all. (Nobody's for light pollution after all -not even the lighting industry). Enter the International Dark-Sky Association, organized this year to try to get folks to think about lighting. The IDA stresses that astronomers aren't against lighting - they're for good lighting. What's the difference between low pressure and high pressure sodium lamps? Just how bad are mercury vapor lights? What's a full cut-off fixture? How do folks in Tucson, Arizona like the fact that their city passed an ordinance that all outdoor advertising signs have to be off by 11 p.m.? Does it work? (You bet!)

To join the folks of the International Dark-Sky Association, you can write to Dave (who's a wealth of lighting fun facts and figures) at his Observatory :

Dr. Dave Crawford Kitt Peak National Observatory PO Box 26732 Tucson, AZ 85726

To find out more about the entire subject, you can join a group of international astronomers at a special series of lectures and discussions being held here in Washington, DC, August 13-16. For a brochure, write to Dr. Tomas Gergely, National Science Foundation, Dept. of Astronomy, 1800 G St., NW, Washington, DC 20550, or to me, care of this newsletter. Let's mobilize!!

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