The Growing Menace of Light Pollution and More - by G

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The Growing Menace of Light Pollution and More - by G

    The Valley Skywatcher

    Volume 38 Number 2

    June 2008

    Nassau Observatory - Geauga Park System - 2008

The Valley Skywatcher is the official publication of the Chagrin Valley

    Astronomical Society (CVAS), and is distributed to our members and friends.

    Thanks to

    Bob Modic Director of Observations CVAS

    Tony Mallama NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    George Gliba - NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center

    Stokes Telescope Records Uranian Satellite Eclipse

    Bob Modic and Tony Mallama

    The astronomical world has been eagerly awaiting the current equinox of Uranus because it provides an opportunity to record several geophysical and astrometric phenomena under unique conditions of solar lighting and Earth viewing. Observers are imaging the ring plane crossing as well as the first sunlight to the impact the south pole of the planet in 42 years. Photometry of mutual eclipses and occultations by the large uranian satellites, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, Oberon and Miranda, provides us with an opportunity to measure their relative positions with an accuracy unmatched by Earth-based observers. This precise astrometry can distinguish between two competing orbit ephemeredes, referred to at LA06 and GUST86, that predict different mid-times for the mutual events. We are collaborating with other observers and theoreticians to address the orbit challenge. As reported in the Skywatcher Volume 37 Number 2 several favorable

    mutual events are visible from Ohio. The first observation collected by our team comes from Indian Hill where the 16‖ Stokes reflector recorded an eclipse of Umbriel by Ariel on 2007 August 13. The data were taken and reduced by Bob, analyzed by Tony, and are shown in the figure below. The observations clearly indicate that the LA06 ephemeris predicted the time of mid-occultation more accurately than did GUST86. Later this year we will submit the results of our research, including this data and that of several other eclipses and occultations, to a professional journal for publication.

    [Figure caption] The observed light curve (dots) was fitted to a synthetic light curve (solid line) which indicates that mid-occultation occurred at UTC 03:05:41 +/- 5 seconds (day fraction 0.1289). The GUST86 ephemeris predicted the mid-

    time to be 106 seconds earlier while LA06 predicted it to be only 23 seconds


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    The Growing Menace of Light Pollution and More

    by G. W.Gliba

     Every year the growing menace of light pollution continues. Overall, although there have been some small victories, and a few minor successes, generally the problem of excess night lighting continues. Of course, as we evolved on this great planet, with it's wonderful biological diversity, it is all of nature, including humans, that suffers when ignorant, or worse, careless, humans continue to turn night into day. Not to mention the loss of the sheer beauty of a star spangled night full of stars.

     With the 38th Earth Day soon coming on April 22nd, it is a good time to reflect on the natural world that we are an intricate part of. As the late Robinson Jeffers put it: "The greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, love that, and not man apart from that". The more light pollution we have the more we become apart from the world we evolved in. We are of the Earth, and it is way past time to encourage more people to study science more, and start seeing the big picture.

     The Universe is way bigger and wonderful than was known only a few years ago. It is estimated that the HST can see about 500 billion galaxies in the observable Universe. And that is only the observable part. It is estimated by some cosmologists that the whole Universe is at least 200 times the size of the small part that we can see. Also, it may well be infinite!

     I recently went to an excellent talk on extra-solar planets at GSFC given by the famous extra-solar planet observer Geoffrey W. Marcy, who along with his observing partner R. Paul Butler, at Lick Observatory, have

    discovered most of the 250 plus extra-solar planetary systems. In his talk he talked about the famous Drake Equations, on the number of habitable planets in the Milky Way. He was careful to say this was still mostly speculation, but with the new extra-solar planet discoveries, there was some scientific basis now for a more accurate estimate. He was also careful to say the Milky Way only, never mind the Universe. Anyway, it came out to about 10,000 habitable Earthlike planets.

     During a question and answer session afterwards, hw was asked about the famous Fermi Paradox, which simply states that if they (other intelligent beings) are out there in large numbers, why haven't we seen evidence for them. Marcy's answer (off the record) was because they are very rare. They are rare in the numbers that occur, or they occur but go extinct.

     Earlier, when talking to the well known NASA/GSFC geophysicist, Dr. Paul Lowman, about this, he sited the book Rare Earth by Peter Douglas Ward, which says that complex life may be uncommon. However, he also thought

    that the second answer for the Fermi Paradox given by Marcy may also be correct, that they are rare but they go extinct. He said that a way to look at it is that they are like fireflies in the night over geologic time. A chilling outcome and sobering thought indeed!

     When faces with the prospects of a runaway green house effect, the loss of biological diversity, and ecological disasters from pollution, not to mention wars, it may be the norm, or typical outcome of a advanced civilization. Light pollution is just one of our follies, but I think an important one. We need to see the stars to see what we are. We are stardust; we are part of Earth. We must put down our ancient alchemy texts and learn the truth using more science before it is too late, if it isn't already.

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North East Ohio Night Skies: The glow of city lights blotting out stars in the

    night sky has frustrated many a amateurs, but recent studies have shown that ―light pollution‖—defined as excess or obtrusive light at nightcan actually have

    serious health effects. Researchers have found that exposure to bright nocturnal light can decrease the human body’s production of melatonin, a hormone secreted at night that regulates our sleep/wake cycles. And decreased melatonin production has in turn been linked to higher rates of breast cancer in women. ―Light at night is now clearly a risk factor for breast cancer,‖ says David Blask, a researcher at the Cooperstown, New York-based Mary Imogene Bassett Research Institute.

    Light Pollution and Wasted Energy

    Another environmental impact of excessive use of artificial light is, of course, energy waste. The International Dark-Sky Association computes that

    unnecessary nighttime lighting wastes upwards of $1.5 billion in electricity costs around the world each year while accounting for the release of more than 12 million tons of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Individuals can do their part by keeping lights dim or turned off at home at nightand convincing their employers and local government offices to do the same.

    How Light Pollution Affects Birds and AnimalsLight pollution causes other

    problems besides increased cancer risks. According to the Sierra Club, birds and

    animals can be confused by artificial lighting, leading them away from familiar foraging areas and disrupting their breeding cycles. And the photosynthetic cycles of deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves in the fall) have been shown to be disrupted due to the preponderance of artificial nighttime lights.

    Bortle Dark-Sky Scale

    The Bortle Dark-Sky Scale is a nine-level numeric (and color coded) measure of the night sky brightness of a particular location. It quantifies the operability of

    astronomical objects and the interference caused by light pollution and sky glow.

    John E. Bortle created the scale and published it in the February 2001 edition of

    Sky & Telescope magazine to help amateur astronomers compare the darkness of

    observing sites. The scale ranges from class 1, the darkest skies available on

    [1]Earth, through class 9, inner city skies.

    Naked eye

    Class Title Color limiting Description


    Zodiacal light, gegenschein,

    zodiacal band visible; M33 direct

    vision naked-eye object; Scorpius

    and Sagittarius regions of the Excellent dark 1 black 7.6 8.0 Milky Way cast obvious shadows sky site on the ground; Airglow is readily

    visible; Jupiter and Venus affect

    dark adaptation; surroundings

    basically invisible.

    Airglow weakly visible near

    horizon; M33 easily seen with

    naked eye; highly structured

    Summer Milky Way; distinctly

    yellowish zodiacal light bright

    Typical truly dark enough to cast shadows at dusk 2 gray 7.1 7.5 site and dawn; clouds only visible as

    dark holes; surroundings still

    only barely visible silhouetted

    against the sky; many Messier

    globular clusters still distinct

    naked-eye objects.

    Some light pollution evident at

    the horizon; clouds illuminated

    near horizon, dark overhead;

    Milky Way still appears complex;

    M15, M4, M5, M22 distinct

    3 Rural sky 6.6 7.0 naked-eye objects; M33 easily

    visible with averted vision;

    zodiacal light striking in spring

    and autumn, color still visible;

    nearer surroundings vaguely


     green Light pollution domes visible in various directions over the horizon; zodiacal light is still visible, but not even halfway

    extending to the zenith at dusk

    or dawn; Milky Way above the

    horizon still impressive, but Rural/suburban 4 6.1 6.5 lacks most of the finer details; transition yellow M33 a difficult averted vision object, only visible when higher than 55?; clouds illuminated in the directions of the light sources, but still dark overhead; surroundings clearly visible, even at a distance.

    Only hints of zodiacal light are seen on the best nights in

    autumn and spring; Milky Way is very weak or invisible near the

    5 Suburban sky orange 5.6 6.0 horizon and looks washed out overhead; light sources visible in most, if not all, directions; clouds are noticeably brighter than the sky.

    Zodiacal light is invisible; Milky Way only visible near the zenith; sky within 35? from the horizon glows grayish white; clouds

    Bright suburban anywhere in the sky appear fairly 6 red 5.1 5.5 sky bright; surroundings easily visible; M33 is impossible to see without at least binoculars, M31

    is modestly apparent to the unaided eye.

    Entire sky has a grayish-white

    hue; strong light sources evident in all directions; Milky Way invisible; M31 and M44 may be

    Suburban/urban glimpsed with the naked eye, but 7 red 5.0 at best transition are very indistinct; clouds are brightly lit; even in moderate-

    sized telescopes the brightest

    Messier objects are only ghosts of their true selves.

    Sky glows white or orange--you

    can easily read; M31 and M44

    are barely glimpsed by an

    experienced observer on good

    8 City sky white 4.5 at best nights; even with telescope, only

    bright Messier objects can be

    detected; stars forming familiar

    constellation patterns may be

    weak or completely invisible.

    Sky is brilliantly lit with many

    stars forming constellations

    invisible and many weaker

    constellations invisible; aside

    from Pleiades, no Messier object 9 Inner City sky white 4.0 at best is visible to the naked eye; only

    objects to provide fairly pleasant

    views are the Moon, the Planets

    and a few of the brightest star


The Valley Skywatcher

    P.O. Box 11

Chagrin Falls, Ohio 44022

Editor: Tom Quesinberry

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