Royal Astronomical Society's Dark Sky Preserves Let People Enjoy Star-Gazing Again

By Rakobowchuk, Peter | The Canadian Press, April 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

Royal Astronomical Society's Dark Sky Preserves Let People Enjoy Star-Gazing Again


Rakobowchuk, Peter, The Canadian Press


Astronomers fight pollution from bright lights

--

MONTREAL - Terry Dickinson remembers being five years old, stepping outside his parents' backyard in Toronto and staring in awe at the Milky Way and thousands of stars.

The 71-year-old astronomer recently returned to his childhood home and was saddened he could no longer enjoy the nocturnal beauty because of pollution caused by bright city lights.

To enjoy the kind of view he took in as a child, Dickinson says he would have to drive at least two hours north of Toronto.

"So, we're talking about not a subtle change," he said in a recent interview. "It's a colossal change -- a total change, from seeing countless stars to seeing a handful."

Dickinson says young people living in large metropolitan centres today are being deprived of the majesty and wonder of the night sky.

"It just isn't there, it's been beaten back by the lights of civilization," he added.

Fighting such pollution has proven an uphill battle for Dickinson and other astronomers who have tried for years to get municipalities to reduce pollution from street lights.

What has been particularly frustrating is the switch to cheaper, but brighter light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Robert Dick, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, has been spearheading a committee aimed at reducing bright-light pollution.

The problem, he said, is that city officials have been told by sellers the lower-cost LEDs "are the best thing since apple pie."

"What they end up doing is buying extremely bad lighting that actually increases by literally a factor of two to three the amount of light pollution," he said.

Dick points out that LEDs decrease the ability to see at night because the white light interferes with a person's vision -- with some research showing it even has an impact on health.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada says it has had a number of victories, however, in its battle against light pollution.

Sainte-Anne-De-Bellevue, on the western end of the island of Montreal, adopted a bylaw in 2013 that has led to 60 per cent of street lighting being changed to energy-efficient fixtures. …

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