Local governments and concerned citizens alike are looking for ways to reduce dark sky glare. In a City Council meeting in Laguna Beach, California, members voted 3-2 to pass a proposal that would sanction a study on the effects of parking lot lights on night skies.
The hope is that the city will find a way to ask businesses building new or retrofitting old to choose Dark Sky Compliant outdoor lighting to minimize the effects of city lighting on the night sky. Stargazers and commercial pilots are letting out a collective sigh of relief.
Apparently pilots are having trouble navigating their way home. And many residents of Laguna Beach are finding it difficult to view their night sky clearly, citing concerns that even when they drive to a quiet area along the beach, they’re only able to see the most bright stars. They’re not alone.
People all over the world are seeing more dimly, and it’s not because the stars have lost their lustre. It’s for two reasons, mostly: air pollution coupled with terrestrial illumination. Combined, these problems are washing out our view of the overhead scenery.
John E. Bortle, a retired fire chief and amateur astronomer, devised the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale in 2001 to measure the visibility of the stars. This nine-point scale uses several criteria to rank sky-views, one of which is how well we can see the faintest celestial objects without magnification. Class 1 is the darkest sky rating, comparable to the skies likely seen by Galileo. Class 9, obviously, is at the other end of the spectrum.
Apparently, most American cities rank between 5 and 7 on the scale, and they’re getting worse. Thankfully, there are things to be done about this growing problem, many of which aren’t that expensive. Laguna Beach’s move to evaluate the necessity of regulating parking lot lighting is just one small step cities can take to reverse the problem.
The average citizen can also contribute to the solutions by installing Dark Sky Compliant lighting on the exterior of their homes and in their landscaped outdoor spaces. These lighting options are not only more healthy for the environment, they’ll give us all a better view of the world beyond our planet.