Wake-up call sounded on light, radio pollution of skies
UK CAMPAIGN FOR DARK SKIES NEWS RELEASE
Posted: August 21, 2000
Mankind will lose its view of the stars altogether -- unless we learn very soon to shine our light onto the ground, where we need, instead of into the night sky. Astronomers at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly in Manchester (UK) have sounded a wake-up call for everyone on the planet.
'Light pollution' affects everyone, not just professional observatories. An average person in the countryside away from city lights can see several thousand stars in the sky. Bit by bit, Europe is losing this view of the heavens as we add more and lamps, and waste energy by sending the light uselessly into the sky. Thousands of millions of pounds worth of energy are tossed upwards into the European sky each year -- instead of down onto the ground which we want to illuminate.
Dr Malcolm Smith, Director of the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in Chile, issued this challenge. "Look around your city or town. See how many street lamps allow plenty of light to shine upwards. Count how many stars you can see. If you are old enough to remember how the sky looked 30 years ago, could you see the Milky Way then? Can you now?"
"Bit by bit, without realizing, we are all losing a direct connection with the universe" commented Dr Smith. "Not only that, light pollution is one of the most rapidly increasing alterations to the natural environment created by humans. Reported adverse effects of this fog of artificial light involve plants and animals as well as humankind. Human culture, from philosophy to religion, from art to literature and science, has always developed in relationship with the night sky and the universe beyond. Are we going to deprive future generations unnecessarily?"
Astronomer Pierantonio Cinzano from Padua, Italy and his colleagues have been using measurements from satellites looking down at the Earth and measure the light shining upwards from the world's towns and cities. Some of his maps showing the serious extent of light pollution can be found at http://debora.pd.astro.it/cinzano/defaulten.html. Large areas in and near cities are already very seriously affected. Good lighting design can save a third or more of the cost of public lighting. Better lighting means less energy is needed and pollution from unnecessary power stations can be reduced.
Preserving dark, starlit skies
Radio interference problems too
Radio astronomers are working with the regulatory authorities to reserve slices of the radio spectrum for receiving natural signals from the universe amid the cacophony of modern life. They are also seeking to establish 'international radio quiet zones', preserves with special regulations rather like national parks. Such a zone might well be the site of a huge square-kilometre array of radio telescopes now being proposed by the world's radio astronomers.