The Dark Sky Issue

I know that I’ve stressed that astronomy can still be done in light polluted areas, but let’s be real- it makes things MUCH harder.  So, here are some things you can do to combat the issue.

First, there are 2 types of light pollution: sky glow and local.  Sky glow is the net result of all the light sources in your greater area, it’s the dome of light you see around a city at night, it’s what people usually think of as “light pollution.”  Local light pollution are the light sources you can see nearby- streetlights, light from windows, flashlights, you name it.  Local light pollution is the easiest to deal with, but steps can be made to combat sky glow, too.

Tips for Dealing with local light pollution:

  1. Position yourself where any or most local light sources are blocked.
  2. Turn it off!  If it’s something you can hit the switch on, like a porch light or a bedroom lamp, turn it off.  If someone else still needs that light, draw the curtains or ask them to move somewhere else that the light won’t reach where you are viewing.  
  3. If you can’t turn it off, cover it or cover yourself.  Drape a dark cloth or put a box over the light source, or move something in the way to block the light.  You could also build a light shield like the one below:   
  4. Worse comes to worst, cover your head with a dark cloth when looking through binoculars or a telescope.  For naked-eye stargazing, you can use your hand to shield your eyes, much like you do with the Sun on a bright day.  It’s not perfect, but doing this is better than nothing.

How to Combat Sky Glow:

Unfortunately, Sky glow isn’t something you can fix by yourself.  But, with some help, you can accomplish a lot.  If you want to make a difference, here’s what you can do:

  1. Turn off your lights at night and ask your neighbors, family, and friends to do so as well.  It’s something easy we can all do, and any change is going to take a whole community.
  2. Use outdoor lighting that is Dark Sky friendly- directed downwards and non-blue or white light.
  3. Petition your local government to switch over to low pressure sodium street lamps.  These lamps diffuse less light into the atmosphere, have less blue light to ruin night vision, and are three times more energy efficient than LED lamps.
  4. Join local chapters of organizations like the International Dark Sky Association or the Dark Sky Society.

Dark Sky Areas:

If these tips just don’t help enough, or you really crave that dark sky experience, worry not!  There are plenty of dark sky sites across the country, and quite a few near State College.  The closest to you is wherever you are now during the next power-outage!  But, if you’re not willing to wait that long, here are some other sites:

For my fellow Pennsylvanians, we’re quite lucky in the dark sky department.  Cherry Springs State Park has the darkest night sky of anywhere east of the Mississippi.  Other dark sky areas include State Camp, Warren, Potato City, and Shippensburg, PA though there are many other places with dark skies throughout the state.  In fact, I saw the Milky Way just 40 minutes outside of State College, in Julian, PA.  I was attending a hayride with my club and when I looked up, there it was!  (So, if you get the chance to go on the hayride- take it.)
For those in other states, you can find a dark observing site here.

If you don’t want to travel to find a dark sky, take advantage of power outages.

I hope this post helped you out; happy stargazing!

Other Resources:

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