Dark Sky Movement Cuts Light Pollution from Cities That Never Sleep

Article excerpt

On a summer night four years ago, Bob Crelin took his young daughter outside their home in Branford, Conn., to look at the night sky.

"I remembered very clearly in the 1960s stepping out in my backyard and seeing the Milky Way. It just blew my mind back then," said Crelin, who grew up in Branford, a New Haven suburb. "I wanted my daughter to experience it too."

All they could see this night, though, was about a dozen dim constellations. All the other stars that should have been visible to the naked eye on a clear, dark night, and astronomers say that is about 2,500, were obscured by sky glow--the pinkish-orange haze that now covers the night sky in most city and suburban areas of the United States and the rest of the industrialized world.

Crelin, 38, a graphic artist and amateur astronomer, devoted several months to educating himself on what astronomers and engineers now call light pollution, excess light from street fixtures, homes and commercial illumination beamed randomly into the sky.

Determined to do something at least locally, Crelin approached the Branford Planning and Zoning Commission with proposed regulations that would require new lighting to be shielded to reflect light downward. This year, the commission adopted these regulations and also required nonessential lighting to be turned off after business hours.

Now Crelin is taking his pitch for light pollution controls to state legislators and officials in other Connecticut municipalities.

Similar campaigns are being waged in communities across the United States as amateur astronomers and others try to persuade businesses, utilities and state and local officials to return darkness to the night skies.

Among the communities that have adopted anti-light pollution measures at the urging of local activists are Tucson; San Diego; Atlanta; Boulder; Hanover County, Va.; Ames, Iowa; Sanibel Island, Fla.; Plymouth, Mass.; and Kennebunkport, Maine.

"It's really happening at a lot of levels," said Alan M. MacRobert, an associate editor of the astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope, published in Cambridge, Mass. "Much of it has been at the most local level--from approaching local officials and lobbying for a law to asking your neighbor to change their light bulbs. Some states have passed laws, often on the initiative of a few amateur astronomers."

Astronomers estimate that only one in 10 Americans lives in a place where the view of the sky is basically unspoiled. Much of the deterioration has occurred in the past 30 years, as suburban sprawl has proliferated light across the landscape and into the atmosphere.

As a result, many people have never witnessed the pristine glory of the Milky Way or a meteor shower like the Perseids, which light up the sky every year from the end of July to the middle of August. …