We have a 'right to starlight,' astronomers say

Aug 15, 2009
The public's "right to starlight" is steadily being eroded by urban illumination that is the bane of astronomers everywhere, the International Astronomical Union said on Friday.

The public's "right to starlight" is steadily being eroded by urban illumination that is the bane of astronomers everywhere, the International Astronomical Union said on Friday.

The body, which wrapped up an 11-day general assembly in Rio de Janeiro that attracted galaxy-gazers from around the world, argued that authorities should use more unobtrusive lighting in cities and towns.

Such moves would not only free up the night skies to make for easier viewing but also promote environmental protection, energy savings and tourism, it said in a resolution.

"The progressive degradation of the night sky should be regarded as a fundamental loss," the union said.

It asserted that being able to see the stars "should be considered a fundamental socio-cultural and environmental right."

One Brazilian , Augusto Daminelli, told the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper that in Rio, "it should be possible to see up to 5,000 stars with the naked eye -- but because of we can only see 150."

He noted that nearly a third of electric lighting is directed to the heavens, and thus wasted.

Possible solutions include putting aluminum covers on street lighting to direct the downwards, and using weaker, more energy-efficient lamps, he said.

"More than two billion people in the world are unable to see the . For us, the sky is a heritage site for mankind," he said.

(c) 2009 AFP

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User comments : 38

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Bob_Kob
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2009
I miss the sky
Ronan
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2009
I don't quite know about a view of the unmarred night sky being a "fundamental socio-cultural and environmental right," but...Well, I've only seen the Milky Way laid out against the night sky once in my life. I'd like to see it again.
kerry
4 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2009
I have never seen a sky covered in stars before. My girlfriend says I have to see it sometime.

Each time I've been out in a rural area at night, it's always cloudy. The rest of the time, I'm in the city/suburbs. I've only seen pictures of a sky covered in stars. I wonder what it all really looks like...
bmcghie
4.7 / 5 (6) Aug 15, 2009
Wow, these comments are depressing. I think the astronomers are on the right track. How hard could it be to reduce light pollution? Who the hell needs all the sodium vapor lamps anyways, with their sick yellow glow oozing over everything?

I'm glad I live in Vancouver, and when I drive an hour to Squamish to rock climb... every night I get wonderful stars everywhere. Yeah, we definitely need to reduce light pollution everywhere.
Caliban
3.8 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2009
Yeah, there aren't many other things that will remind you of the scale of things like a clear night sky will. But you do have to go farther and farther out there to see it. There has to be a way to reduce the LP.
Nemo
5 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2009
I was out at a friend's deck at her cottage a few years ago. I almost fell in the lake I was so disoriented by the sea of stars I was seeing. Those astronomers are onto something.
Doug_Huffman
5 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2009
The only excuse for light pollution is poor engineering demanded and performed and sold. There is no excuse to ever see glare from a troffer and especially away from the area that it is lighting.
Temple
2.2 / 5 (11) Aug 15, 2009
It seems to me that the vast majority of our planet has practically no light pollution. Is it that the members of the IAU want the 'right to starlight' within a short drive of their comfortable urban lives?
Neurons_At_Work
4.6 / 5 (7) Aug 15, 2009
I'm an amateur astronomer, and have been my whole life. About 5 years ago I purchased a home about 15 miles from our previous residence, which was considered the 'suburbs' of Phoenix. The area I moved to prided itself on clear skys and very conservative lighting. There are no street lights at all, and only low wattage plant lighting along the sides of the roads. I'd thought the night sky was fairly dark where I was, but when I drove to the new house at night for the first time (during the construction process), I was amazed to see the Milky Way clearly out my window, while driving down a major freeway. From the lot, the view was, and still is, quite awesome. Tonight, directly overhead, is Cygnus and Lyra and Sagittarius, with the Milky Way streaming right through the middle of them. The center of the galaxy rests in Sag., and is very conspicuous. For those who rarely, if ever, see this sight, I really feel for you, because there's nothing like it in the world...
Neurons_At_Work
4.3 / 5 (8) Aug 15, 2009
It seems to me that the vast majority of our planet has practically no light pollution. Is it that the members of the IAU want the 'right to starlight' within a short drive of their comfortable urban lives?


I don't think that's the case at all. Many astronomical observations require time exposures of 8-10 hours, sometimes compiled over many nights. A city many hundreds of miles away can fog these images, especially because common mercury vapor and high pressure sodium bulbs emit light that happens to fall right in the middle of the spectrum they're trying to see. They already build most telescopes in the most out-of-the-way places they can find, highest mountains, etc., but sometimes even that isn't enough. There has to be at least some infrastructure around to build these machines, so going to the middle of the Gobi Desert or K9 is not an option. The point is that it's possible to have both dark sky and necessary lighting, as long as a little thought goes into both...
dachpyarvile
1.5 / 5 (6) Aug 15, 2009
When I want to see a sea of stars or even the Milky Way, I take a drive into the more remote desert than where I live. Of course, when the wind is blowing, the dust and sand obstructs the stars as well as any light pollution ever could.

And, environuts want to construct solar and wind farms in my deserts. This will break up the natural lichens underground and cause more dust and sand to be kicked up into the skies by the wind. Can't win either way. :)
Temple
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2009
I don't think that's the case at all. Many astronomical observations require time exposures of 8-10 hours, sometimes compiled over many nights. A city many hundreds of miles away can fog these images
Nobody's suggesting Earth is at all an ideal place for extremely precise optical imaging.

They already build most telescopes in the most out-of-the-way places they can find, highest mountains, etc., but sometimes even that isn't enough. There has to be at least some infrastructure around to build these machines
Wait, so no matter how dark the world is, there will still be unacceptable light pollution from the observation facilities themselves? No, that's not the discussion here.

Those points do not speak to the concern raised by the IAU. They are saying that it's a right to "see the stars". One astronomer says that there are only a fraction of stars visible to the naked eye while in Rio.

I'm sorry, if you're standing in one of the largest cities on the planet, you should expect there to be a lot of ambient light. Even with no light directed skyward, there will still be a lot of light pollution (just look at the Moon for an extreme example).

If you want to see stars, you might have to move slightly away from your WiFi, cell towers, freeways, and 24 hour convenience stores.















QubitTamer
1.8 / 5 (10) Aug 16, 2009
More AGW type quackery... this is all anti-civilization / anti-capitalism wrapped in buffoonery... Want to see the stars clearly at night? Rent a boat and get out on the water... sorry, people being busy living their lives on the land and if you REALLY gotta see the stars in their natural splendor then it's YOUR responsibility to go find them somewhere out on the water and not tell millions of people to stop living their lives!
frajo
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2009
But you do have to go farther and farther out there to see it.

Or higher. Ever been on a night plane with flight height 10 km?
Velanarris
3 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2009
Believe it or not directional LEDs, when they're cheap enough, will greatly assist with this problem in suburban areas. As for the city, I'm not sure what can be done with current technology. Maybe roof over the streets?

If the Big Dig wasn't so damn expensive, and the people performing the project weren't so greedy and corrupt, it might have been the example of below ground roadwork that we were looking for to alleviate some city woes.

Or higher. Ever been on a night plane with flight height 10 km?
Even then you'll see a lot of LP from the plane itself.
Arthur_Zombie
3.6 / 5 (7) Aug 16, 2009
I believe QubitTamer has, inadvertently, stumbled upon the fundamental reasoning behind the IAU's bold statement. Pardon me for the metaphysical rant, but whether you are a devout Christian, cosmologist, or anything else for that matter, the heavens are the birth place of all civilization. So, to say having the socio-cultural right to view your place of origin is anti-civilization / anti-capitalism buffoonery is just false.
Bob_Kob
2.8 / 5 (4) Aug 16, 2009
Want to see the stars clearly at night? Rent a boat and get out on the water


Few things wrong. 1. Its at least a 3 hour drive away to an area where the stars are visible. 2. At night, where am i going to stay afterwards?

frajo
4 / 5 (4) Aug 16, 2009
Or higher. Ever been on a night plane with flight height 10 km?

Even then you'll see a lot of LP from the plane itself.

Sure. Nevertheless, it was the most impressive sight of the sky I ever had. Even more impressive than viewing the stars from (the terranean) mount olympos at 2100 m. Two of the moments I'll never forget.
Velanarris
5 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2009
Even then you'll see a lot of LP from the plane itself.


Sure. Nevertheless, it was the most impressive sight of the sky I ever had. Even more impressive than viewing the stars from (the terranean) mount olympos at 2100 m. Two of the moments I'll never forget.


I'm sure. I've been lucky enough to be in a location remote enough where LP wasn't a detectable issue. It was absolutely breath taking. I only hope we fix our lighting systems so that future generations can see it.
Arikin
4 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2009
Velanarris is right about the LEDs. Couple that with outdoor lighting system (street lamps) that measures the ambient light and either dims or brightens to a moonlit level. Humans do perfectly fine at that light level.

Besides, if you need more light bring a flashlight or turn on your headlights :-)
Velanarris
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2009
It's not so much whether we do ok at low light, it's whether our crime rates do ok at low light.
Ricochet
1 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2009
It seems to me that the vast majority of our planet has practically no light pollution. Is it that the members of the IAU want the 'right to starlight' within a short drive of their comfortable urban lives?

Well, I'll put it this way... I'm currently persuing a physics degree. The only reason I'm not going for some sort of astronomical specialty is because I don't want to have to live in the middle of nowhere, or have to drive a long distance to get to work. I'm a city boy.
Nederluv
not rated yet Aug 18, 2009
Look at it from the bright side..
Maybe aliens will spot our planet sooner due to the higher luminosity!
Noumenon
4.7 / 5 (46) Aug 18, 2009
I think stars are an eye sore.
Noumenon
4.8 / 5 (45) Aug 18, 2009
O.K., not really :)

More AGW type quackery... this is all anti-civilization / anti-capitalism wrapped in buffoonery... Want to see the stars clearly at night? Rent a boat and get out on the water... sorry, people being busy living their lives on the land and if you REALLY gotta see the stars in their natural splendor then it's YOUR responsibility to go find them somewhere out on the water and not tell millions of people to stop living their lives!


Exactly. By the same logic, I like boobies, so all (well not all) women should walk around topless.
dachpyarvile
1 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2009
Want to see the stars clearly at night? Rent a boat and get out on the water


Few things wrong. 1. Its at least a 3 hour drive away to an area where the stars are visible. 2. At night, where am i going to stay afterwards?


1. It is a two to three hour drive for me as well. Live with it or live somewhere else where you don't have to deal with it.

2. Plan and go camping. You carry your lodging with you.

There! Problems solved. :)
Velanarris
4 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2009
Exactly. By the same logic, I like boobies, so all (well not all) women should walk around topless.

First, thank you for qualifying that with "not all".

Second, a starlit sky has rammifications on health. Lack of seeing a starlit sky is actually detrimental to your health due to the impact of additional light on circadian mechanisms within the body.
Noumenon
4.7 / 5 (46) Aug 19, 2009
Was that a joke? If not, you may qualify as a GW spokesman.
Velanarris
not rated yet Aug 19, 2009
Was that a joke? If not, you may qualify as a GW spokesman.


A GW spokesman? Clarify please.
Noumenon
4.7 / 5 (46) Aug 19, 2009
I meant AGW, as in 'man caused global warming'. For example, if one desired to overturn society with ad hoc social engineerng, merely on the basis of some crackpot farfetched theory about the effects of star light on ones health, they are likely to also buy into the AGW scam.
dachpyarvile
4 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2009
No, really, Velanarris is right but it has more to do with the amount of light one receives while one attempts to sleep.

Sleeping with too much artificial light at night actually can mess one's body up in various ways due to interruption of circadian rythyms. There are a number of studies one can Google to that effect.

I started noticing various health problems and constant feeling like I never really slept--even though I did.

Since I started using a blackout curtain with an LED nightlight at the same spectrum of light that reflects off the moon, I have seen a dramatic difference in my health since doing so for the last year.

I sleep better and have felt more rested after sleep. And, I am an AGW agnostic/denier in spite of it.
Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2009
I meant AGW, as in 'man caused global warming'. For example, if one desired to overturn society with ad hoc social engineerng, merely on the basis of some crackpot farfetched theory about the effects of star light on ones health, they are likely to also buy into the AGW scam.

You're out of your tree.

At what point in time did I speak of GW or anything having to do with GW? There's a known mechanism within the human body that corresponds to the day night cycle. Disturbing that cycle causes mental and physical problems over time. Less light of any type during the evening hours is beneficial to human health. If you can tie that into CO2 or AGW in any logical way then you need to do some serious thinking about what your stance is and why.
docknowledge
2 / 5 (4) Aug 22, 2009
Good grief, you want no light pollution? Then don't drive at night, leave streetlights off, making roads unsafer, and neighborhoods having higher crime. Turn off lights at refineries and ports that operate at night. Better yet shut them all down.

"Right to starlight"? What a bunch of horseshit. Put out, of course, by astronomers, who as usual in my professional experience have little contact with the rest of the human race.
brianweymes
2 / 5 (4) Aug 22, 2009
With all the drivel over something so simple, I can see it now on some blog::

"Elitist IAU demands 'right to starlight', could lead to light switch tax after 10 pm. Obama's 'science czar' spoke at their convention in 1988. This is proof America is being driven down a stalinst-enviro-fascist future."
rubberman
2.7 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2009
Ignorance is bliss eh guys? Without the stars our ancestors never would have been able to navigate their way to north america in the first place.

As far as solving the light pollution problem, many cities in Ontario have already re-written their electrical codes to require that all sight,street and security lighting be installed with full cut-off optics only ( zero uplight)in an attempt to curb and eventually eliminate light pollution. The reason all of them haven't is cost.

A 10,000 square foot parking lot with a minimum illumination of .5 fc (foot candles) can be done with four 30 ft poles and 8 400w metal halide fixtures....if light pollution isn't an issue. Designing to the new specifications these muicipalities have instituted the job requires 9 poles and 12 fixtures. Option#1 cost $6500.00,
option#2 cost $12800.00.

This is funny because this is the job I was working on when I read this article. Needless to say my customer has the choice of which way to go as his sight is not in one of the cities with the strigent codes but he was attmepting to be environmentally concious until he got the quote....
yyz
not rated yet Aug 27, 2009
I find it curious that none of the posters on this thread even mention the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), homepage here: http://www.darksky.org/ . A lot of electrical lighting engineers have conducted research on this wasteful use of electricity to light the night sky needlessly. Several science papers have pointed out that overly-lit/poorly lit buildings or homes suffer an increased crime rate due to criminals ability to hide in deep shadows. And many biological problems stem from light pollution (e.g. bird and sea turtles, among others). Also, this continuous exposure to light can interfere with the bodies circadian cycle. Poorly designed street and freeway lights cause glare (as with hi-beam car lights) and and could contribute to more automobile accidents or mishaps. Remember that light pollution affects more than just astronomers. Check out the IDA link for better descriptions of the problems and possible low-cost solutions to mitigate light pollution. Obviously, we cannot prevent light pollution everywhere it occurs, but published literature exists on proper lighting practices that benefit the public at large, maintain safety AND save electricity at the same time.By all means, check out the IDA site for new perspectives on this increasingly important topic.

BTW: I spotted the light-dome over Las Vegas over 200 miles away while approaching it from the west along I 80 in 1979. The glow from Havana, Cuba is abundantly clear from the Florida Keys despite the 90 mile separation.
SkybeamKiller
not rated yet Sep 09, 2009
What municipal lighting departments have got to realise is that not everyone wants obtrusive lighting outside their homes. I have always maintained, as an astronomer, that if a lighting authority is told to remove lighting from outside a householder's home, they must do exactly that, and not parrot out irrelevant concerns about safety and security. The removal of one or two lights is not going to make any difference in areas that are already over-lit but it will make a big difference to the householder's quality of life. Nor do they want a namby-pamby screen put on the light, or to hear any nonsense about the majority wanting more and brighter lighting. Majority rule is fine in politics but it must not suppress minorities. The householder's needs therefore should take priority. To ignore these people is callous in the extreme and a violation of their human rights. Should a householder complain about an offensive light, they should get real and do the decent thing, send an engineer down and get rid of it.
Velanarris
not rated yet Sep 09, 2009
Yeah and your neighbor can toss a flood light on the front of his house and you can do squat about it.

The cities and towns own the roads. The only thing you could do to protest is stop paying taxes.

Good luck on that one.

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