Orion Over Observing Field

Photo provided by David Ault

Combating light pollution to protect our starry night skies

Step outside at nighttime, and you’ll likely notice that the dark skies of yesteryear are rapidly disappearing, replaced by the yellow haze of light pollution.

Stargazers may find the problem annoying, but according to David Ault, a member of the Williamson County Astronomy Club, they aren’t the only ones affected. “Light pollution harms both us and the environment,” says David. “All this artificial light affects our own circadian rhythms and those of animals, messing with sleep and health.”

Fortunately, there is a movement underway to mitigate these negative effects. The Dark-Sky Initiative, started by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), has armed citizens around the globe with the knowledge needed to make positive light changes—both large and incremental.

Here are a few simple strategies you can employ to help reverse the effects of light pollution and protect our starry night skies.

Milky Way

Photo provided by David Ault

1. Substitute unshielded lights with shielded lights. According to David, this minor change can produce significant results. “A good portion of light goes up into the sky and scatters, and that’s a major cause of light pollution,” he says. “If you direct the light downward, where it’s more effective, then you’re actually utilizing the light better, and you’re causing less light pollution.”

2. Install motion-sensing lights outside your house to ensure that the lights turn on only when needed. Timers and dimmer switches can also be helpful.

3. Turn lights off when not in use, and use only the amount of light necessary to prevent waste and pollution.

4. Blue lights, commonly used in electronic displays, can be particularly harmful to health and circadian rhythms. Avoid blue lights at night.

5. When purchasing fixtures, look for the IDA’s “Approved Dark-Sky Friendly Fixture” seal of approval.

Photo provided by TXMOST

Photo provided by TXMOST

For more information, visit the International Dark Sky Association website at www.darksky.org. The Hill Country Alliance also provides information about preserving dark skies at www.hillcountryalliance.org.

A Planetarium on the Move

See the night skies inside a mobile planetarium! The Austin Planetarium Discovery Dome from the Texas Museum of Science and Technology in Cedar Park is a portable, inflatable planetarium that can seat about 45 kids or 30 adults for a digitally projected show. Find out more about the mobile planetarium at www.txmost.org.

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