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Space Science

Town Turns Off the Lights To See the Stars 222

Hugh Pickens writes "Stargazing skies all over the world are disappearing, as the sky above New York City is Class 9 on the Bortle ranking and American suburban skies are typically Class 5, 6, or 7. But some places are making an effort to preserve their skywatching heritage as Exmoor National Park was granted International Dark-Sky Reserve status in November and people in the Exmoor town of Dulverton were challenged to switch off their lights as part of the BBC's Stargazing Live, demonstrating that you don't need special equipment to see the stars more clearly, if you have a decent pair of binoculars. 'The whole idea is to show that even a small town, which is still quite dark, can give off quite a lot of light,' says astronomer Mark Thompson. The event in Dulverton gained a lot of support from local residents and businesses. 'It needed a bit of organization to get everyone to say yes,' says town mayor Chris Nelder. 'We want people to just enjoy the night sky, to treasure the fact we have them and to look after them,' adds Claire O'Connor from Exmoor National Park Authority."
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Town Turns Off the Lights To See the Stars

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  • Sounds awesome! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chrissfoot ( 2290640 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:07AM (#38746984)
    Wish my town would do this from time to time!
    • Re:Sounds awesome! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by XrayJunkie ( 2437814 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:14AM (#38747018)
      I agree. Its a great event especially for the kids. Maybe there will be more events of this kind in other cities/countries. But limited to small towns - you need a lot of people to agree switching the lights off.
    • Re:Sounds awesome! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by datavirtue ( 1104259 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:43AM (#38747194)

      I live in the country so I get a fairly good look at the sky. However, when I first moved into my house the first thing I did was go outside and shoot the mercury bulb with a pellet gun. The power company installs a "house light" on every property and they charge you about $10 a month to run it. I called and had them remove it later on. I told them it blew up one day and I didn't want it for safety reasons. Tried to get the neighbor to get rid of his, but he never looks at the sky so what does he care.

    • by Walt Dismal ( 534799 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:52AM (#38747254)
      You would be amazed to see the difference between the sky above a city or town and what it is like out in the country well away from lights but also from air pollution. When I go out of Silicon Valley, where you can see some stars, down to Pacheco Pass in the mountains southeast of the area, the difference is immense. You can see the Milky Way in all its glory, and then you realize what you see in the city is like having a gauze bandage around your head. Once the Illuminati kill off 99% of the population, those skies are going to be spectacular! Well worth it, I say.
      • by tixxit ( 1107127 )
        I'm not sure pollution plays much of a role at all. Many parts of the country have pretty terrible air quality, but still have incredibly clear skies at night. Air pollution rarely stays in one place and the sticks can often be just as polluted as a nearby city.
      • by Rinikusu ( 28164 )

        One of the most amazing demonstrations of this was the one time I flew down to Florida to visit with friends and we headed to keywest at night. A couple hours of driving, we pulled over out in the middle of nowhere and instructed everyone out. Not that that's creepy at all, no sir. But once we got out, he turned out the lights on the car and said "Look up." Magnificent. Then he killed us while we were staring up.

        True story.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        You would be amazed to see the difference between the sky above a city or town and what it is like out in the country well away from lights but also from air pollution. When I go out of Silicon Valley, where you can see some stars, down to Pacheco Pass in the mountains southeast of the area, the difference is immense. You can see the Milky Way in all its glory, and then you realize what you see in the city is like having a gauze bandage around your head. Once the Illuminati kill off 99% of the population, t

      • Once the Illuminati kill off 99% of the population, those skies are going to be spectacular!

        But surely the Illuminati are to blame?

    • Re:Sounds awesome! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday January 19, 2012 @10:10AM (#38747366)

      I've lived in cities all my life and AFAIK, I've never seen the Milky Way. I wouldn't even know it was supposed to visible in the night sky if I hadn't seen pictures of it in books. Human's have done amazing things to adapt to our environment, and we've become the most adaptive species in the planet's history. But there is always a cost, unfortunately.

      • Just go out into the country for the experience. It's worth it. One of the very few things I used to enjoy about Army training in the Mohave was the night sky.

      • Re:Sounds awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @11:47AM (#38748388) Journal
        This summer, go out camping. And by camping, I don't mean parking a motorhome next to an electrical hookup. I mean the "What do you mean you forgot the coffee? It's a four hour canoe trip and three portages back to the car, you numbskull!" kind of camping. Then take a midnight paddle on a clear windless night when the lake is as still as glass. You'll see the stars above, and the stars reflected in the water below. It is magical.

        It's even better if you can get away in the winter, because the cold dry air doesn't hold as much pollution.
      • by JerkBoB ( 7130 )

        I've lived in cities all my life and AFAIK, I've never seen the Milky Way.

        You'd know it if you saw it. It's unmistakable, and it's breathtaking, the first time you see it in all its glory. I remember the first time like it was yesterday. I was 10, and at a summer camp in the wilds of West Virginia, right next to a national forest. 50 miles to the nearest city, nearest small town was ~10 miles away. I was out walking across the athletic field one night, and happened to look up. Nearly fell over, because the milky way was so astonishingly bright and beautiful. I grew up in a

    • by tixxit ( 1107127 )
      There is "Earth Hour," but it is such a joke. Usually you'll get every 2nd or 3rd house with its lights off, but Walmart will still have their parking lot blazing bright and the city streetlights will all be on (at least here). What we need is another 3-day blackout, like back in 2003. I walked around the streets at night for hours; it was so surreal and made for great skies.
    • Cruise Ships (Score:5, Interesting)

      by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @11:29AM (#38748176) Journal
      I wish the cruise ships I'd travelled on had done this. It would have been awesome being in the middle of the ocean and seeing the stars. But no... the whole upper deck was brilliantly lit and there were strings of multicolored party lights hanging over the deck.
      • Re:Cruise Ships (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rinikusu ( 28164 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:53PM (#38749198)

        Hrm. I bet if there were enough interest, a cruise line might be willing to make a "stargazers" cruise and set-up with some telescopes/binoculars and some good astronomy teachers to show you how and where to look and use the equipment, etc... And, of course, alcohol. That's a cruise I might be interested in...

      • by danwiz ( 538108 )
        The best night sky I've seen is in the midddle of the Mediterranian on a US Navy ship, during "wartime steaming" status. All running lights are out, and all exits to the ourside are double-doored with red lights between. There were so many stars visible that it looked fake.
  • Nice, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:09AM (#38746994)

    That's nice, but aren't the lights on for safety reasons? I mean, if they weren't serving any use, people wouldn't have them in the first place.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not necessarily... For instance, nearby my hometown they've installed several street lights... at a pass, at 1800 meters high, with nothing within at least 1km around. Would be eager to learn about the safety improvement of such an investment. At least since then I am now completely unable to observe anything from that location that used to have a pretty clear sky

      • Don't try to make sense of it man. Just your typical bureaucratic suck-fest.

      • Not necessarily... For instance, nearby my hometown they've installed several street lights... at a pass, at 1800 meters high, with nothing within at least 1km around. Would be eager to learn about the safety improvement of such an investment. At least since then I am now completely unable to observe anything from that location that used to have a pretty clear sky

        In my head I am picturing a giant tower 1800 meters high, with nothing but a lightbulb on top of it.

      • They got their pork already. A few well placed pelet shots and I bet nobody would bother to replace those bulbs.
    • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
      Most of the time, I'd want to have night sky lit up 10x brighter than the brightest place on Earth, but I think it's awesome to have a few nights let off so that people can appreciate the sky as it would be. If everyone agrees, and skips a night of travel for a day or two per year, that's more than a worthy sacrifice. It's something I've been wanting all along.
      • Why would they skip a night of travel because the street lights are turned off?

        • Because automobile based travelling itself causes light pollution, and would spoil the whole point of the exercise.

    • No, they're not. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You see, light causes shadows. And your pedestrian walking home at night will be walking in the light, therefore night blinded by the light (this is why you can't see as many stars at night in a lit street as opposed to your sheltered garden) that illuminates you and makes the shadows deeper.

      Meanwhile, the crafty mugger, hiding in the shadow, sees you well illuminated and highlighted out as a target and knows you cannot see them in the shadow, and jumps out on you and mugs you.

      The burglar can also see bette

      • I've heard advice that if you're at home and suspect somebody has broken in then you should turn all the lights out (or not turn them on at all). You know your way around in the dark, the intruder probably doesn't, so you're at an advantage. You can also shut your eyes tightly, turn a light on for a split second, turn it off, and bingo, you've got night vision and they don't.
    • Re:Nice, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by biodata ( 1981610 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:17AM (#38747036)
      It could just be security theatre. People are evolved/inculcated with fear of the dark, so lights make them feel safer. Is there any good evidence to show that providing street lighting makes things safer than people carrying their own light with them?
      • by Strange Ranger ( 454494 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:35AM (#38747176)

        "Always consider the possibility that installing a light may aid criminal activity." []

        Bad guys who wave flashlights are easier to spot than bad guys who don't need extra lighting.

        • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @10:22AM (#38747478) Homepage Journal

          I've had a woman complain at me for hanging around at 6:30 in the evening in a well lit area, just because the sky was dark. If it was 9PM in summer (when it's still bright as day here in Scotland), I doubt she'd have said anything at all.

          She kept saying things like "well, as a woman.. well, you know". And though I knew what she was trying to imply, I wanted her to come out and say it, so that she could hear how stupid it sounded. She never actually did get to the point though. If she was actually scared of me, she wouldn't have approached me and started chatting, she would have just called the Police.

        • Well apart from security there is safety: people fall down or bump into things. There is a reason why that criminal carries a flashlight around.

      • No, it's definitely not security theater. It's one of those things that bears out in the crime statistics. Poor lighting, overgrown shrubs that impede the line of sight, tall buildings and allowing buildings to go into disrepair are all things which are linked to increased crime. And all of them except for maintenance of buildings have a logical explanation as to why they would help criminals commit certain types of crime.

        If you're interested it's Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design and it's hardl

      • Re:Nice, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @11:27AM (#38748144) Homepage Journal

        My experience is that people who spent their formative years in the city feel more secure with more light, those who grew up in the country feel more secure with less light.

    • by Suki I ( 1546431 )

      That's nice, but aren't the lights on for safety reasons? I mean, if they weren't serving any use, people wouldn't have them in the first place.

      Don't tell those villagers that or they will be in the streets with torches and pitchforks.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The trouble is a lot street lamps waste a lot light into the sky instead projecting in down to where's its needed.

      • Re:Nice, but... (Score:5, Informative)

        by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:32AM (#38747146)

        National Geographic mentioned this in an article on this a few years ago on light pollution (I'm too lazy to go find it). A lot of cities are slowing making the transition to lights that only shine downward and waste little into the sky. It's serves the dual purpose of 1) saving energy and 2) cutting down on light pollution.

        • The capital of Australia, Canberra has street lighting designed like this. All lights have a small reflector cap on the top that ensure little light gets spilled upwards. This was done due to the close proximity of the capital to the Mt Stromilo Observatory.

          In reality though last time I walked around Canberra, while it does help it still does very little compared to taking a car out into the middle of nowhere. I remember taking some Japanese exchange students on a trip only 2 hours west of a major Australia

          • I wonder how it effects the distance one must travel out of town to see things get better though. I would think that would be where the real big advantage would be although that is just an untested (on my part anyway) guess. I know cities with normal lights make the sky a big pink mess in their direction from many miles away. Maybe this would be different?
        • They've been doing that around here lately. The local utility has been switching to LED streetlights and they're wonderful. Rather than one bulb that has to burn out there is an array of like 20 LEDs that have to individually burn out. The color is much more pleasant than the older orangish color. Plus, I'm sure that they use a lot less power.

          On a side note after about 25 years, they've finally fixed the street light out front of my parent's place.

          • For astronomers that can actually be worse. For one, if they're not reducing the current through the light to take advantage that more of it is going to its intended target, then the increased reflected light from the street still causes light pollution. More importantly, those white lights emit all over the spectrum, and are incredibly hard to filter out. The ugly orange lights only emit at a couple of frequencies, and is very easy to filter out.
          • The orangish color is there for a reason. It allows you to see objects like people and animals, and it does not wash out brake lights.
        • by mike449 ( 238450 )

          In Flagstaff, Arizona, you can see Milky Way from the downtown. I didn't research how bad is crime there, but when I was there I had a feeling of a safe place.


          • Re:Nice, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by simonbp ( 412489 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @11:37AM (#38748258) Homepage

            Crime is very low in Flagstaff, in fact among the lowest in the state: []

            Flagstaff was the first Dark Sky City in the world, and achieved that by making nearly all outdoor lighting Low-Pressure Sodium (LPS) emission lamps. LPS is much lower power than High Pressure Sodium or Mercury (the typical alternatives), thus saving the city massive amounts of money on energy bills. In addition, LPS is monochromatic, making it easily blocked by even mildly sophisticated amateur astronomers. And the minimal skyglow has allowed the local research telescopes to survive, thus pumping tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.

            Speaking as a professional (and occasional amateur) astronomer, Flagstaff is much, much better off because its Dark Skies.

      • Yes... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:57AM (#38747276)
        I don't normally respond to ACs - but you are right. At out last house the Council wanted to install a street light outside - at a cost of several thousand pounds. We demanded that they fit a reflective hood to keep the light away from our house, as I like to be able to see stars. They fussed a lot over a £10 add-on to an expensive streetlight which actually put more light where it was wanted.

        We got it. But why the argument was necessary in the first place I cannot imagine.

    • Re:Nice, but... (Score:5, Informative)

      by HopefulIntern ( 1759406 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:31AM (#38747144)
      That was my comment on the BBC article (which was subsequently voted into oblivion). The street near my friend's house has had its street lighting turned off at night recently (though for energy-saving purposes, not stargazing) and within a month there were two rapes and an assault right there on the street. It is not something I would have thought of right away, but speak to any woman who has ever had to walk home at night, alone, and they will tell you they feel much safer under street lights.
      • Re:Nice, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:41AM (#38747190) Homepage Journal

        The really pathetic thing is that we can spend less on lighting, have more light, and see the stars if we use lights with reflector hoods that put the light where we want it rather than where we don't. They tend to be even less attractive than streetlights normally are but that's not a law of physics.

      • Re:Nice, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Strange Ranger ( 454494 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:43AM (#38747200)

        People may say they feel whatever, but there are plenty of studies that show no correlation, or even an increase in crime.
        Light can be a great help to criminals. Not least of which they're easier to spot when waving a flashlight. Also, if your under a streetlight, EVERYBODY NOT under a light is automatically hidden from you. But when everyone is in equal lighting and can see equally, it's harder to hide.
            It's amazing how many people don't even know their eyes will adjust.

            Most probably some types of crime will go up and others will go down. I'll leave it to you type "street lights crime study" into google.

        • Erm, it's more to do with other people seeing that you are being assaulted. If you are in the light, you can be seen. If you are not, you can be attacked without anyone else being any the wiser. I think that was the reason all this happened.
          • You are correct in that there are many factors different studies have tried to take into account. It depends on place too. Right now you could attack somebody in broad daylight on my street and nobody would see you. It's 20 degrees outside and people don't sit and look out their windows much. The fact remains that it's never been conclusive either way.

            We've had a rapist on the prowl in our area recently. He knocks on your door and then forces his way in. I'm pretty sure he doesn't care a whi

          • Re:Nice, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @10:55AM (#38747824)

            I think you completely missed his point.

            He pointed out that if everyone is in the same low level of light then everyone will see equally because their eyes will adjust, thus if someone is raping you you will be more easily seen in a dark bush by someone whose eyes are adjusted to the dark due to lack of lighting, whilst if someone has dragged you into a dark bush to rape you when they are walking in the light, because their eyes wont have adjusted to the dark it'll actually be harder for them to see you.

            What you say is only true if someone rapes you in the light, but what rapist is stupid enough to do that? Most happen after their victims have been dragged somewhere dark, where most people can't see because they're walking in the light and their eyes are adjusted to the light.

      • by DaveHowe ( 51510 )
        To be fair, you can usually get away with using better targeted, more directional lighting. Not only does focussing all the light down with appropriate reflectors mean less escapes skywards, but it means you can achieve the same levels of illumination with much lower power levels, saving money too..
      • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

        And how many incidents were before that? My guess is that your friend only became aware of crime after he got interested in the effects street lighting could have on it. Crime rates are higher during the night because there are less people, thus less witnesses on the streets. I have a hard time to believe that shining light on criminals will turn them lawful.

    • Re:Nice, but... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:33AM (#38747156)

      The main reasons for street lighting is to make obstacles and pedestrians more visible to motorists, to allow pedestrians to move around without carrying a torch, and to make them feel safer.

      In this case, they'd closed the roads around the town for this stunt, so no need for worrying about cars, and a good fraction of the population of the town was out on the street, so there were fewer empty dark back alleys down which to get stabbed (plus it's a small rural town; if it's anything like mine crime is generally livestock related...), and everyone there knew about it months in advance, so I'd expect they were stocked up on torches and batteries. It was just a shame it was so cloudy!

      If you have never seen the stars without light pollution, go to somewhere in the middle of nowhere and have a look. It's quite hard to do in the UK, as our population density (and thus light pollution) is many times that of the US, so there aren't many really empty places left. It's a real tragedy that for a little convenience and marginal extra safety we've given up our window seat at the edge of the rest of the universe.

      • Indeed - the glow effect in the sky caused by light pollution is visible up to 80km from the light source according to the accompanying BBC article []. That makes it pretty hard to find anywhere in the UK without some light pollution (take a look at the map further down the page, a few small pockets in Scotland is about it for the UK stargazer).
        • by stiggle ( 649614 )

          In the UK the dark blue bits on the map in England (no need to voyage north into Scotland) are Cumbria (central Lake District), Northumbria (Kielder Forest), the Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor.

          When Hale-Bopp visited in 1997 - I had a great view of the double tail from Cumbria, but hardly any tail at all from the South Downs (near Guildford).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Most lights on are 80+% of the time being unused and just on "because who wants dark areas? The scary monsters might get you!"
      And you would think I was kidding, but humans are more afraid of the dark than most like to admit. Hiding behind about a hundred different excuses.
      I still know plenty of adults now who are scared hitless-missing-an-s of the dark. Like, genuinely scared.
      I'd be surprised if it was any lower than that to be honest.

      And more than anything, most lights are at a brightness WAY BEYOND anyth

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      Many lights serve only decorative purposes. Also, having everyone who wants to walk at night bring their own flashlight would be a lot more efficient.

    • There are many things you shouldn't do every day that are certainly worth trying once in your life.

      And you can bet it's good weather that night, with good visibility (apart from the fact that it's dark). It won't be foggy, rainy or snowing, because of ... well... star gazing, you know. So, yes, those light are for safety, and yes, it's totally worth it to ignore that safety once, on a beautiful clear day. Especially when the entire town/country was warned in advance.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ks*nut ( 985334 )
      Bullshit. The myth of lighting for security reasons is just that - a myth. Most outdoor lighting is still horribly inefficient in that it scatters light where it is not needed and wastes energy. And why are people so damned enamored of lighting tall buildings, billboards and street signs from below? There is also a lot of street lighting that doesn't light the street effectively and causes glare in drivers' eyes. Yes, I am an amateur astronomer and outdoor lighting (in general) sucks.
    • Most outdoor lights are very wasteful because too much of the light doesn't go where it is needed. Most streetlights only throw about half of their output downward with the rest going sideways (and over the horizon toward the sky) or upwards. There ARE fully shielded streetlights that throw almost all of their light DOWNWARD and these can be of lower wattage to give the same effect without causing light pollution. Even better if they are low pressure sodium lamps which emit light on only two wavelengths

  • Fear of the dark... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:12AM (#38747008)

    I live in a very dark neighborhood... no streetlights within about a mile, and lots of trees (makes stargazing... challenging.) Unfortunately, some of the neighbors don't feel safe unless they leave lights running all night long. It's a very basic human trait: fear of the dark. We have less crime in my dark neighborhood than many nearby well-lit ones, but facts don't erase fear.

    • by Nrrqshrr ( 1879148 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:24AM (#38747090)

      We have less crime in my dark neighborhood than many nearby well-lit ones

      That's probably because burglars, too, fear the dark.

    • by Inda ( 580031 )
      Just like the Simpson's tra-map-poline joke, if you want something stolen in my neighbourhood, you add a padlock and chain.

      I have no light or even a fence at the bottom of my garden. All the garden tools are left where they fall (against a wall, normally) and yet they've never been stolen.

      Everyone else's sheds and garages are broken into yearly.

      Maybe the criminals are afraid of my dark and open garden?

      It's actually the stone flint pathways that puts them off. They're noisy to walk on.
      • by tixxit ( 1107127 )
        As an opposing point, I used to live in a neighbourhood where it was pretty common knowledge that if you didn't chain and padlock your BBQ to your house, it would be stolen within a couple weeks. Usually in daylight while people were at work/school. In this case, the thieves did go after the easiest targets.
      • I think nefarious individuals are afraid of motion sensor lights, and dogs, not that I have any, but they don't know that, and many of my neighbors do.

        I do have some motion sensor IR cameras... all kinds of interesting creatures moving in the yard in the middle of the night, none on 2 legs yet.

  • Amen to that (Score:5, Informative)

    by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:12AM (#38747010)
    I've always lived in semi-rural or town areas in a fairly packed part of the UK. You can see a few stars on a good clear night but there's still a lot of light polution.
    I recently went on holiday to a farm in the middle of nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales. I was utterly astounded to find out you can actually see the Milky Way at night - it blew me away. I spent hours just lying on my back in the grass with my mouth open. Wine probably helped. I feel so bad I've missed such a wonder for all these years.
    • Seeing the Milky Way (and the host of other visible-to-the-naked-eye stellar phenomena ) is one of those things I always took for granted growing up. Never thought about people never seeing it. I suppose it's sort of like snow... you never think about the fact that some people may never see snow with their own eyes when I'm used to seeing it by the yard.

      • by ledow ( 319597 )

        I grew up in and around London. I consider it a good night if I can see more than the Plough with the naked eye after ten minutes of standing and letting my eyes adjust.

        My girlfriend (from a rural part of Italy) keeps on about showing me the Milky Way, meteorites and fireflies. I have honestly never seen any of them.

        The only way to "see" more than a handful of the brightest stars near a city like that is to have a very sensitive camera and a "BULB" mode where you can do exposures of whatever length you ne

        • We had a German family in the same hotel. The first night they were outside looking at the stars and someone said "There you are, we have better stars than you do in Germany". The husband took it quite seriously and said "You are right, we live in the Ruhr and you can never see stars clearly through the haze".

          I imagine this has changed nowadays.

    • I have a cottage in the northern midwest of the US. The night sky up there is absolutely incredible. The milky way is clearly visible, but the real star is the northern lights. I love it when i can take someone there to see them for the first time. The reaction is always the same, "Holy SHIT! How can that be real?"
  • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:19AM (#38747046)

    This is why I like going back to my hometown, especially during the winter when the sky is cold and clear. Drive to the top of the nearest hill and you can see about ten billion more stars than possible within 20 miles of the city where I live now. My girlfriend grew up in the suburbs and is amazed by the sheer number of stars visible where I grew up. This is exactly the reason why we stick everybody in one big city in New York - so the rest of us in the state can still enjoy the great outdoors.

    • It's also why I enjoyed going to a small state school in a small town (~2,000 full time residents, plus ~1,500 students in dorms or apartments in town). The college's observatory was less than a mile away and had a decent telescope (especially compared to the $100 telescope I had when I was younger). It's freaking amazing what you can see on a clear night even with a relatively small observatory... made having classes until midnight well worth it.

  • Not only that, but someone taking part in Stargazing Live reportedly discovered a planet []! A nice little series.

  • Dark skies (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I couple of years ago I went up to the middle of the Alleghany National Forest in the middle of the day (I live in a suburb of Pittsburgh) to wait until night to see what the skies were like from up there. I've been meaning to go to the Cherry Springs star parties for a while and missed my chance so I felt this would give me an idea of what some naked eye star gazing is like from a remote part of the woods.

    So I waited and the sky was really fantastic. I've never seen anything like that from around m

  • by AJ Mexico ( 732501 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:37AM (#38747182) Homepage
    More info over at [] . It costs a lot of money/oil to keep all those lights on. Is it worth it? Have your children seen the milky way?
  • My experience is that light pollution only happens when there is smog in the air. In summer, or after strong winds the sky is usually clear. So I think a better approach would be to reduce air pollution, which in turn would reduce light pollution too.

  • by fredrated ( 639554 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @10:20AM (#38747460) Journal

    About 35 years ago I got the chance to sail to Hawaii from San Francisco in a small (31') sail boat. Believe me, when you are 1000 miles from the nearest light the night sky is astounding. It is very obvious why the ancient people put so much stock in the night sky: it hangs over you like a presence you can feel.
    More recently I used to go to Death Valley for a good night sky, but that is becoming increasingly problematic. Even when there is no moon, there is so much light from Las Vegas and Los Angeles it looks like the moon about to rise (in two places!). *snif*

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Also when you are in that dark of skies you can see the earths ring of dust in the early morning.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @10:45AM (#38747698) Homepage

    This would be reduced significantly.

    Honestly, the U of M did this. they threw away all the crap street and building exterior lighting and replaced them with fixtures that do not waste light by spraying it upwards and sideways. All light is controlled.

    IT made a huge difference to the light pollution around their observatory on campus.

  • I live in the Boston area so the night sky is hard to see. I usually take a week off during the summer and travel to the family lakeside camp in New Brunswick, Canada. There, the night sky is so clear you can see satellites, plane lights, shooting stars, etc. It's amazing just to lay out on the dock and wonder.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!