Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Astronomers ask to be kept in the dark

From the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see 
a seller. 
Viewing the stars is becoming easier due to technological advances and the needs of local councils to cut costs by reducing street lighting. The developments are delighting astronomers who are campaigning against light pollution and for natural, starry – or dark – skies.
Retired office worker Tony Higgins of Leeds has a lifelong interest in the stars. He has been a member of the local astronomical society since 1973 and is regional spokesperson for the Campaign for Dark Skies. (CfDS).
“The last century saw the gradual disappearance in many areas of the starry sky,” he said. “Light pollution has contributed to the increasing barrier between the human race and our natural surroundings.
“Seeing the stars can make people feel good and capture their imagination when they realise there is so much more than just what we can see on earth.
Natural sky
“It’s about ensuring as much artificial light created shines downward as possible. People are blocked from seeing the sky by street and outdoor security lighting, much of which is badly designed, shines up and in some cases can be seen from miles away.”
To save money and reduce carbon emissions local councils are increasingly turning off street lighting. A 2013 survey of local authorities found that 81 had turned off or lowered the brightness of 750,000 lights.
Critics of the moves have argued it could lead to increased crime, less personal safety
and more road accidents. The CfDS is pleased that councils are not afraid to switch off but recommends control of lighting, not no lighting.
Bob Mizon, CfDS national spokesperson, said: “The Institution of Lighting Professionals has asked us to help write its training course on lighting and the environment. Lighting Journal is the voice of the UK lighting industry and its pages show only downward- directed lights nowadays.
“Technological progress can help allow people to view the natural sky at night whilst maintaining safety and security in their homes, on the streets and roads.”
Astronomers are also heartened by the December 2013 decision of the International Dark Skies Association to grant gold tier dark sky park status to the Northumberland Dark Sky Park.
Discovery sites
There are five dark sky protected areas in the UK, the largest number in the world after the US. A low level of air pollution means Northumberland retains England’s largest extent of starry skies.
The new status could increase tourism and benefit nocturnal wildlife. Dark sky discovery sites will be created where people can admire the sky.
The Peak District National Park has meanwhile installed star information panels at two of its car parks beside the High Peak Trail. The national park’s dark skies can be up to 15 times darker than nearby towns and cities, and visitors should find it easier to see planets and meteor showers.

“I am optimistic that the future is not brighter as it will mean we can see much more of the natural dark starry skies,” said Tony Higgins.

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