Monday, December 21, 2009

Can the International Astronomical Union Stop Urban Light Pollution?

As one of the major goals of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009), does the International Astronomical Union or IAU hold enough clout to stop the scourge of light pollution?

By: Ringo Bones

As the only international astronomical body that has the power to downgrade Pluto from a bona fide planet to a “dwarf planet” status, the International Astronomical Union could have easily stopped urban light pollution. But as of late, many amateur astronomers have always been wondering why the International Astronomical Union had always been “very meek” when it comes to stamping out the scourge of urban light pollution. The question now is, can the IAU – using its political clout – really has the power to stamp out the scourge of urban light pollution? After all, those sodium-vapor lamps that radiate as much light upwards as well as lit our streets is pretty useless when it comes to stopping a 123-grain Lapua Scenar round travelling at 2,600 feet per second, doesn’t it?

When it comes to achieving the “bottom list” of the International Year of Astronomy 2009’s major goals – i.e. on facilitating the preservation and protection of the world’s cultural and natural heritage of dark skies in places such as urban oases, natural parks and astronomical sites. It did manage to score big points recently when the world’s astronomical community voted Galloway Forest Park in Scotland as one of the best stargazing sites on the planet. Galloway Forest Park was even awarded “dark skies” status and praised for accessibility to the general public. The park’s dark skies status accolade was probably due to the healthy tree cover filtering the distant glow of not-so-distant urban nighttime illumination.

Recently, the International Dark Skies Association had tested the levels of darkness in the Galloway Forest Park using a Sky Quality Meter – a method of darkness measurement that would rate a photographer’s darkroom (with the dim red light on?) a rating of 24, the highest reading possible. Galloway Forest Park got 23 out of 24, while the reading in cities such as Glasgow would be 15 or 16.

Despite of its relatively close proximity to major urban centers, it is a miracle that Galloway Forest Park managed to score very high marks on the Sky Quality Meter. But the park’s proximity to northern England, Central Scotland and Northern Ireland – not to mention the ferry port of Stranraer – allowed Galloway Forest Park to score high on the general public accessibility scale in comparison to some other famed but more remote stargazing sites in Britain. Let’s just hope that billionaire property developer Donald Trump doesn’t buy the park in order to turn it into an extremely well-lit casino and golf course. Noting that the full Moon can’t be seen anymore on a well lit nights of the Las Vegas Strip.

To the benefit of us amateur astronomers who live elsewhere on the planet. The International Astronomical Union should be urging governments around the world to redesign streetlights so that they only illuminate the pavement as opposed to our current ones that does double duty of shining a spotlight on four-engine World War II-era night-bombers flying at 25,000 feet. These overly bright streetlights that scatter their light everywhere can’t even make a 9-mm Parabellum round fall to the ground as soon as it leaves the muzzle of a Beretta 92-F – like those “newfangled” inertial dampening field devices. And lets not forget that they don’t even to do double duty either as a quantum-tunneling wormhole that allows our law enforcement personnel to “ miraculously materialize” at the scene of the crime in less than three seconds as far as I know. These overly-bright sodium-vapor lamps that scatter their lights all over the place – especially upwards – not only ruin amateur astronomer’s view of the night sky, they also produce unnecessary carbon dioxide that leads to global warming.

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