20 August 2007

Stargazing in the city

Our family saw dramatic shooting stars last week while out of town. At the time, I didn't realize that it was the middle of the Perseid Meteor shower.

We also gazed at the Milky Way, a sight which most suburban and urban children now rarely see.

We also saw satellites travelling across the sky, which I never see from my city perch.

Our city balcony faces west, which means we can often observe planets following the sunset, and can see more stars than you would think, being that we live amongst much light pollution. It is important for me and my children to be able to sit out at night and stargaze. We are not astronomers; not even amateurs, but we enjoy it nonetheless.

Make no doubt about it, excess light is pollution. Light shining up into the sky is in essence, wasted energy; caused by laziness on the part of engineers and ignorance of property owners. They install improperly designed and improperly directed light, and they insist that more is better, which is not true. Just enough light is best.

Sure, light pollution is pretty low on most people's priorities (below things such as crime, transportation, schools and dozens of other things) but I think it is another quality of life issue, up there with other local forms of pollution such as litter, noise and graffiti, that make city living less pleasant. Some cities, such as Tuscon, near Kitt Peak Observatory, have implemented light trespass ordinances to much success.

A study of Cincinnati would probably show that road lighting as well as uplighting on buildings cause the most damage. What would it take to start installing "full cut-off" fixtures at these locations? Most street lighting would provide the same function, and would have less distracting glare to drivers, if it was shielded so that the light shines downward, not horizontally or upward. Building lighting can be done with neon outline lights or downlights, or portions, such as the top of a tall builings can be internally illuminated to great effect.

Although our night sky is ruined by light from dozens of jurisdictions, it would be a great start and a great statement for the City of Cincinnati to pass a light pollution ordinance.

4 comments:

Radarman said...

I greatly enjoy this much-needed blog. A city without children is a hopeless place, I think.

I'm going to have to change my attitude about our western-facing deck, a hideously uncomfortable place after noon, but now, I learn, an observatory. Evenings are creeping in, so it will be a little more comfortable and I'll see what I can see in the way of meteors.

The pitifully mashed Hanna Park tube is what you get when no one really owns the spot.

Mike said...

Over the next few nights the brightest object in the sky, other than the moon will be Jupiter, right next to the moon.

http://www.earthsky.org/radioshows/51570/m

I've never had much luck seeing falling stars in the city, but they seem like they would be bright enough.

Mike said...

Not sure if I was clear in the post, but the milky-way, shooting stars and satellites were all seen while we were far out of town last week. Only the brightest stars, the moon and planets are visible from inside the city

MI David said...

Mike,

If you get the chance take the family out into the hills 8/28 for a glimpse the next full moon. The Harvest moon in September is even better.