Press Release

Starry, Starry Night Becoming a Thing of the Past

By SpaceRef Editor
October 11, 2002
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When rolling blackouts swept through California during the state’s 2001
energy crisis, two things became clear: there are more stars in the night
sky than most city-dwellers realized, and far too much electricity is
wasted on inefficient outdoor fixtures that send much of their light
directly up into the sky.

On October 25-26, California energy officials will join with lighting
specialists from throughout the U.S. and Canada at the fall 2002 meeting of
the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). They’ll be taking aim at the
ubiquitous pall of urban skyglow known as “light pollution,” its effects on
our health and our society, and what can be done to halt and reverse its

Satellite images dramatically reveal that for most people the sky never
becomes truly dark and that, sadly, the starry, starry night has become a
thing of the past. Two-thirds of Americans and Europeans can no longer
discern our own galaxy, the Milky Way, with the naked eye. That’s because
almost of a third of the light used outdoors escapes upward, totally
wasted, into the night sky. About 2,500 individual stars should be visible
to the human eye in an unpolluted night sky. But in a typical suburb only
200 to 300 stars are visible, and in a city fewer than a dozen stars may
shine through the ever-present skyglow.

The IDA estimates that each year in the United States, more than $1 billion
is spent to generate that wasted light — resulting in the needless burning
of some 6,000,000 tons of coal annually.

Light pollution also causes problems for human and animal health. When
light interrupts the sleep cycle, the body reduces or halts its production
of melatonin, a compound that clinical research has linked to a variety of
negative health factors. Artificial light confuses sea turtles trying to
lay their eggs on the beach and may be contributing to their dwindling
numbers. Migrating birds often lose their way when they fly over the bright
lights of a city, sometimes circling until they die of exhaustion.

SKY & TELESCOPE and the IDA invite members of the press to attend the
sessions on Friday, October 25th. This first day of invited talks and panel
discussions will take place in Cahners Theater at the Boston Museum of
Science. It will showcase speakers from the lighting industry, government
agencies, power-utility companies, and others from the fields of medicine,
environmental science, and astronomy.

The second day of the meeting, Saturday, October 26th, will convene in
Phillips Auditorium at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in
Cambridge. Saturday’s four sessions will be aimed at more technical talks
among those groups actively involved in outdoor-lighting issues. Phillips
has seating for about 150, and thus Saturday’s sessions will not be
advertised to the public or the news media. Given enough notice, however,
we will try to arrange interviews with invited speakers and other experts
in attendance.

For more information, including a preliminary meeting program, see the
online version of this press release on SKY & TELESCOPE’s Web site:

There you will also find a publication-quality photograph of the eastern
part of North America at night, as viewed from an orbiting satellite. Here
is a caption:

Billions of watts of wasted electricity stream continually into space as
light from cities and towns in eastern North America. Although light
pollution can never be completely eliminated, better commercial and
municipal lighting practices could reduce it significantly. This 1994
satellite image is from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program.
Courtesy NOAA and the U.S. Air Force.

SpaceRef staff editor.