Turning off the Lights to See the Stars

A movement to shed light on the worldwide loss of dark skies aims to minimize light pollution in order to increase public opportunities for stargazing, while also serving as a money-saving measure for cities, reports Kate Galbraith.
October 18, 2012, 8am PDT | Jessica Hsu
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"Everywhere, light pollution is an increasing problem," said Andrej Mohar, an amateur astronomer in Slovenia who has lobbied for light regulations there. Around the world, children and adults have become less aware of the cosmos above, since "it has become harder than ever to see the stars, as cities with their 24-hour lights continue to sprawl." So, in recent years, educators and organizers have called for the curbing of excessive lighting and the preservation of dark skies.

"An Arizona-based group called the International Dark-Sky Association," states Galbraith, "has led advocacy efforts worldwide for preserving the night skies. The designation of dark-sky parks and reserves is based on the idea "to single out areas that offer excellent stargazing and also work to keep night lighting minimal." For example, the NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia was chosen as the first reserve in Africa because "the dry air and remote location make for clear skies and good nighttime viewing."

"The biggest battle of all, of course," writes Galbraith, "involves getting enough people to care." Three areas in Britain have received "massive media coverage," but she notes that the "dark-sky cause has been aided by fiscal problems." In Britain, cities regard minimizing light pollution as a money-saving measure.

Technology is also aiding efforts to reduce light pollution. Better fixtures and so-called smart grid systems, which use sensors to operate lights based on movement, can save energy as well as light.

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Published on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in The New York Times
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