03 February 2014

Current Studies of Light Pollution

Phyllis Lang, owner of Knightware, recently gave a presentation on Light Pollution at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. Some of the content had local relevance (City of Raleigh ordinances), but most was of a more general nature.

The presentation defined light pollution and its unwanted effects - economic, environmental and astronomical. Regardless of the effect that motivated them, people were interested in taking simple steps to mitigate light pollution. These easy steps were mentioned as effective changes that citizens can take:
  • Aim outdoor lighting downward.
  • Shield outdoor lighting fixtures. Suggestions are available from the International Dark-Sky Association
  • Turn off outdoor lighting when not actually needed.

Measuring light pollution is a vital component in understanding light pollution - in both what it affects and how. Citizen scientists can help with this task by participating in the Globe at Night and Great Worldwide Star Count projects. These are easy projects for families and school groups, and the results are useful to researchers worldwide.

Large scale studies can be conducted by institutions and governments. These studies are supported by objective methods of measuring light pollution which are readily available now. Off-the-shelf equipment, such as Unihedron's Sky Quality Meter and Knightware's SQM Reader Pro are being used in a surprising number of studies worldwide. Some examples include:
  • University of Hong Kong
  • Governments of Australia, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands
  • US National Parks Service

While astronomers have used light pollution studies for years to plan the locations of their observatories, many other issues are being studied now. The leading issues being studied are economic waste, harm to animals, and the inability to view the natural night sky. One of the most surprising issues studied recently was the effect of light pollution on urban air chemistry; that is, air pollution. This one was conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado.

Light pollution affects more than most people realize, and the list of problems caused by it is growing. Researchers will continue to explore this issue, and concerned citizens can take effective action today to mitigate the problem.