Light pollution, energy waste, and our vanishing night

Is your town wasting energy by sending it right into outer space?

To follow-up on the Earth at Night post from earlier this month, I asked Amy Sayle, PhD, from UNC’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center to share resources for introducing students to light pollution as well as the solutions that exist to minimize light pollution:

At live star shows at Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, people often gasp when the Milky Way appears. Many students visiting on school field trips have seen this hazy band of starlight only in our simulated sky, because light pollution has made the night sky vanish where they live.  The main culprit? Poorly designed lighting. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), offers a downloadable fact sheet that could be used to introduce your students to the topic of light pollution.

Unshielded lights fail to direct light only where it’s needed and as a result billions of dollars are wasted every year in the United States on such unnecessary lighting. In this brochure about light pollution and energy, the IDA estimates the wasted energy at 22,000 gigawatt-hours a year, or the equivalent of more than 450 million gallons of gasoline.  All that misdirected light doesn’t even enhance our safety. The things we’d like to see outdoors after dark, such as roads, sidewalks, and muggers are all found on the ground, not in the sky. Furthermore, glare sent into our eyes by unshielded lights is actually counter-productive for safety.

By using well-designed, pedestrian friendly lighting such as the shielded fixture illustrated below, we not only save energy, we also enhance our safety, and protect the night sky, wildlife, and even human health.

You can engage your students on this issue with the GLOBE at Night citizen science project, IDA lesson plans and student projects, or with the 2011 documentary The City Dark.

Students could also investigate how lighting in their community might be improved, or perhaps is already being improved by city officials, so that stargazing no longer happens for them only at the planetarium.

An example of a pedestrian friendly light fixture that prevents light pollution.

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