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When did light pollution start to be a serious problem?

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#1 birger

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 02:27 AM

Obviously, LP is a fairly new problem to astronomers. From the 1800s and back there was almost no artificial lighting at all, not even in large cities such as London and Paris. However, the first street lights don’t seem to have caused much damage to the night sky. I read on these forums that people in the ‘60s could see the Milky Way by the naked eye from the outskirts of New York City.

Today, finding Bortle 1 skies in Europe is impossible unless you travel to the far north of Scandinavia or remote parts of Russia. The situation is similar in the eastern half of the US, where Bortle 1 skies are seemingly completely absent. Canada, Australia and New Zealand seem less affected though.

So when would you people say that LP started to become a serious problem? And is the problem getting worse at a faster rate than before? Will the natural night sky be completely lost to mankind in the future?

#2 Astro-Master

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 02:50 AM

With LED lights on the rise, means more lights for less energy.  I saw an ad on tv for LED lights to stick on your stairs pointing straight up.  Nice.  Just in the last two years I've noticed quite a bit more light at my dark sites in the southern Ca. deserts.


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#3 Redbetter

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 03:31 AM

As far back as I can remember in the Ozarks I could see the glow in the sky from a town of 2,000 seven miles as the crow flies, despite an intervening hill.  It is worse now, and shows to be about Bortle 3.  It was probably Bortle 2 or slightly better back then in the early 70's, but still not pristine.

 

Those stupid pole mounted insecurity lights that the REC's started putting up 35-40 years or so ago on every farm greatly contributed to the overall increase in light pollution in rural areas.  And now when I drive to dark sites it seems that farms have several additional bright lights on barns, sheds, the garage, house, and sometimes the drive entrance.  They are on all night, every night. 


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#4 Andrew_L

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 03:53 AM

I can't put any numbers on it, but I feel light pollution has definitely worsened in the UK during my astronomical lifetime 50+ years; and I feel it has accelerated over the recent ten years or so of my more serious observing/imaging.

 

The Royal Obsevatory at Greenwich near London was suffering from light pollution by the early years of the 20th century. They moved the working parts of the observatory to Sussex 70 miles or so out of London in the 1950s. So presumably they considered the light pollution in that more rural area acceptable back then. Most professional UK astronomy is now done from observatories overseas of course. 

 

https://www.the-obse...science-history

 

The only areas of Bortle class 1 in the UK now are in the north of Scotland. The best you'll find in England and Wales are Bortle class 2. Our little place in Cornwall is Bortle class3. Most rural areas in the UK are Bortle class 4/5. As for cities ....  

 

 

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#5 TOMDEY

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 04:25 AM

We're screwed, and nothing we can do about it.

 

Regarding the History of Light Pollution... I know the professionals have been warning/complaining for fifty, even a hundred years. Mt Wilson and Palomar used to be dark! Now their scopes are essentially useless, not because they are old technology... but because of the polluted skies! It's hopeless.  Tom



#6 sg6

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 04:49 AM

I would guess it became worse when we developed neon and flourescent lights - they were cheap to run. I recall bad in the 70's that it was said that it was cheaper to leave offices with their flourescent lights on rather then switch them off. The tale was the cost of the starter kicking them into life was greater then running them.

 

When that becomes folk law then there is not a lot we can do. I suspect that many still believe it.

How many buildings and officices have their lights on at night. And since that light is simply broadcast and not directed it is a direct and significant contrinuter to light pollution.

 

Any places (cities etc) that have a rule/law making it compulsary that buildings switch off all lights?

I know of none anywhere.

 

As lighting becomes cheaper we would hope that the level remains constant and organisations and people save money, the reality is that being used to spending $NNN of lighting it now means they can spend the same and have more lights at no additional running costs.

 

Cambridge here has not installed everywhere the bright white LED lights, lots of areas have lower color temperature lights that seem both smaller and better controlled. The maybe odd aspect is they are really comfortable to walk and drive along. But just about everywhere just goes for the "white" ones. Or get talked into it.

 

However even we astronomers are partially to blame. We buy houses and expect street and street lights, many of us will have security lights ( we may turn them off when outside), we want roads to drive along, and they come with lights, we want well lit shopping malls and car parks. Which turn do I take = read the illuminated sign.

 

Towns that have installed these "evil" LED lights, how many of us have attended town or city meetings to give input and alternative suggestions? Bet the number is very close to 0.

 

So I guess the problem was 70;s with the low cost lighting that became available.


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#7 happylimpet

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 04:51 AM

I can't put any numbers on it, but I feel light pollution has definitely worsened in the UK during my astronomical lifetime 50+ years; and I feel it has accelerated over the recent ten years or so of my more serious observing/imaging.

 

The Royal Obsevatory at Greenwich near London was suffering from light pollution by the early years of the 20th century. They moved the working parts of the observatory to Sussex 70 miles or so out of London in the 1950s. So presumably they considered the light pollution in that more rural area acceptable back then. Most professional UK astronomy is now done from observatories overseas of course. 

 

https://www.the-obse...science-history

 

The only areas of Bortle class 1 in the UK now are in the north of Scotland. The best you'll find in England and Wales are Bortle class 2. Our little place in Cornwall is Bortle class3. Most rural areas in the UK are Bortle class 4/5. As for cities ....  

Its certainly a ot worse than in the 80s when I started looking up seriously. For example - the milky way in cygnus was obvious with the rift clear, and small constellations like delphinus were clear - none of this now.

 

Im thinking long term of moving to Cornwall, my best chance of decent UK skies.



#8 Asbytec

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 04:57 AM

Globally, it's hard to say. Sometime after Galileo, I suppose. 

 

Personally, it became a problem in 1975 when they opened a new mall not far away. Then again recently when they installed some LED lights in a parking lot a block across from my two story townhouse. This one I managed to speak to the engineer and told him it'd be better if the lights were not pointed directly across into our neighborhood and directly into our bedroom window (and into the sky). Point them toward the pavement to reduce glare for the security and drivers, better light on the ground for parking, and reduce light trespass on our neighbors (and the sky). Cost me $10 to grease his palm. 


Edited by Asbytec, 30 November 2018 - 04:59 AM.

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#9 BQ Octantis

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 05:39 AM

I don't have a precise answer, but I can bound the problem to within ~100 years:

 

1. In 1879, when Thomas Edison patented the filament electric light bulb.

2. In 1980, when the World Health Organization certified the global eradication of smallpox.

 

BQ


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#10 DLuders

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 05:53 AM

When I was a teenager in the suburbs of New York City, I was able to see most Messier Objects from my backyard.  There are just a LOT more people around nowadays, and the trend is for more lighting: 

 

USA Light Pollution Trend.JPG


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#11 okiestarman56

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 06:29 AM

I'm just waiting for a CME to take care of the problem.


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#12 BQ Octantis

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 06:37 AM

When I was a teenager in the suburbs of New York City, I was able to see most Messier Objects from my backyard.  There are just a LOT more people around nowadays, and the trend is for more lighting: 

 

attachicon.gif USA Light Pollution Trend.JPG

 

It's still pretty dark across Australia.

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 8.59.10 PM.png

 

As a result, I've gotten to witness the the zodiacal light and the gegenschein—two phenomena that I'll wager are almost unavailable to North America and Europe.

 

BQ


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#13 nicknacknock

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 07:02 AM

Moving this to Light Pollution forum as it is more appropriate over there.

 

From my personal experience, light pollution IS a problem already. In the last two years, I have lost about 0.5 Mag as measured with my SQM meter.


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#14 Cali

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 07:47 AM

An explanation is probably that light = security.

 

- Cal


Edited by Cali, 30 November 2018 - 07:48 AM.

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#15 Defenderslideguitar

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 07:51 AM

ok   so  here in Southern New England  I am sure it has been a problem that grew since the early 1900's    For me personally   it was darker in the sixties and seventies  relatively anyway

 

the interstate    I 95 around here ,  automatic transmissions allowing everyone to drive propelled the malls and suburb paving     and of course recently l e d  and light as security   protends poorly for the future

 

it behooves us to take trips to darker skies when we can     cant do it all the time but we can do it


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#16 Karl Fabian

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 08:14 AM

The Interstate highway system and automobile was and is the most important factor for expansion of urban development across the entire landscape of the USA. complete with all the lights. I remember as a child in the 1950s the night sky between Chicago & Milwaukee not far from Lake Geneva, Twin Lakes, etc looked like outer space at night. It all changed when the Interstates expanded in the early 1960s and has been getting worse everywhere with housing developments, industry and shopping malls spreading into the countryside that was previously mostly farmland.  



#17 aatt

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 08:28 AM

I would guess it became worse when we developed neon and flourescent lights - they were cheap to run. I recall bad in the 70's that it was said that it was cheaper to leave offices with their flourescent lights on rather then switch them off. The tale was the cost of the starter kicking them into life was greater then running them.

 

When that becomes folk law then there is not a lot we can do. I suspect that many still believe it.

How many buildings and officices have their lights on at night. And since that light is simply broadcast and not directed it is a direct and significant contrinuter to light pollution.

 

Any places (cities etc) that have a rule/law making it compulsary that buildings switch off all lights?

I know of none anywhere.

 

As lighting becomes cheaper we would hope that the level remains constant and organisations and people save money, the reality is that being used to spending $NNN of lighting it now means they can spend the same and have more lights at no additional running costs.

 

Cambridge here has not installed everywhere the bright white LED lights, lots of areas have lower color temperature lights that seem both smaller and better controlled. The maybe odd aspect is they are really comfortable to walk and drive along. But just about everywhere just goes for the "white" ones. Or get talked into it.

 

However even we astronomers are partially to blame. We buy houses and expect street and street lights, many of us will have security lights ( we may turn them off when outside), we want roads to drive along, and they come with lights, we want well lit shopping malls and car parks. Which turn do I take = read the illuminated sign.

 

Towns that have installed these "evil" LED lights, how many of us have attended town or city meetings to give input and alternative suggestions? Bet the number is very close to 0.

 

So I guess the problem was 70;s with the low cost lighting that became available.

I don't have any lights on outside my house, unless there is a guest coming or leaving or I switch on my back porch light to check on the depth of the snow or something and then I turn it off.I keep the shades down too.My front door light is motion activated and set for the shortest cycle and has a cutoff bulb in it so it does not uplight. I for one, do not contribute to this problem except when I drive at night.. As to your point about lack of involvement-just look at this thread. I would think that this thread would have the highest traffic on CN given the magnitude-pun intended-of this problem, but apparently talking about Ethos eyepieces is way more compelling.If every CN member did something-calling the public works department, writing letters and emails perhaps this problem would not be growing at the rate that it is. Perhaps it may even roll back, although I doubt this, I have to remain optimistic. At this juncture, light pollution is being talked about regularly in the media more so than in the past, so there is some inertia going in the opposite direction and we should capitalize on that.One very likely emergent problem is, I think many knee jerk reactionaries will call us snowflakes, libs and treehuggers who think criminals will be aided by any efforts to stop this problem and will buy lights and point them upward for spite.I say this from reading the trolls on light pollution articles, so it is a very real thing unfortunately. I suspect, as you do, that a majority of folks just complain and gnash their teeth. I have written municipalities that are hundreds of miles away from me.Even though I could do more, I can sleep with a clear conscience that I have done something. CN folks should at the very least join the IDA if they can't motivate in any other way. 


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#18 Svalbard

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 08:33 AM

I grew up about 30 miles west of the Chicago city limits in the 80s. I remember as a kid my dad pointing out constellations (big/little dipper). It was very easy to see them. I now live outside of Charlotte NC and I can barely even see but a few of the stars that make up those constellations. 

 

It's pretty depressing on the east coast, very light polluted.



#19 HarryRik9

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 08:52 AM

The term light pollution is a value judgement created by astronomers. I doubt that most people would agree that light is a pollutant and needs to be reduced or controlled by government.  So I doubt that it is a serious problem at all, and the effort to make it into a problem is merely a perception of astronomers. 



#20 Augustus

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 09:12 AM

The Interstate highway system and automobile was and is the most important factor for expansion of urban development across the entire landscape of the USA. complete with all the lights. I remember as a child in the 1950s the night sky between Chicago & Milwaukee not far from Lake Geneva, Twin Lakes, etc looked like outer space at night. It all changed when the Interstates expanded in the early 1960s and has been getting worse everywhere with housing developments, industry and shopping malls spreading into the countryside that was previously mostly farmland.  

The death of shopping malls and big retail may help, I suppose.


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#21 Asbytec

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 10:00 AM

Very good points, aatt. The problem perceived by so few, including me, seems overwhelming. I've done a little, but it's not nearly enough. I managed to get some evil LED lights turned downward toward the ground and (I feel) made a compelling argument from IDA material. That and $10 got me more than a cup of coffee. The problem is that is just a drop in the 50 gallon drum.

When I drive by other establishments in the area their blatant ignorance or disregard is obvious in the design of their exterior lighting. Not sure I'm up to the task of asking or expecting any of those establishments to spend money redesigning their exterier lighting for me or anyone outside of some city ordinance where one or a few voices compete with the many well funded ones.

Now expand that same condition to every growing major and minor city in the US and across the globe. The task is monumental to say the least. Maybe I am to blame for thinking it's unwinnable with such a small army of concerned amateurs except for the small battles we wage with our immediate neighbors.

I chose to move to a green zone, instead. I was lucky enough to find one not too far from work. Not sure how long it will last. Still, folks out here do see and appreciate the starry night. But, alas, may not feel compelled as it slowly fades and they grow older. It's progress, I suppose.

Maybe it became a problem because so many didn't appreciate what they lost. Not like we do. I dare say the vast majority of folks don't even know what the Milky Way is. Those same folks are more appreciative of the new super mall going in up the street or fear the dark.

Edited by Asbytec, 30 November 2018 - 10:08 AM.


#22 aatt

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 10:33 AM

The term light pollution is a value judgement created by astronomers. I doubt that most people would agree that light is a pollutant and needs to be reduced or controlled by government.  So I doubt that it is a serious problem at all, and the effort to make it into a problem is merely a perception of astronomers. 

I disagree and it is a serious problem. It is likely a more serious issue than we realize.Over 60% of species are nocturnal and circadian rhythms are shared by all organisms. There is plenty of hard scientific evidence to support the assertion that light is a pollutant and more evidence is emerging every year.Perhaps you think ecology does not matter, but  it does whether you believe it or not.

 

I also disagree that it is an astronomer issue alone.I have a a colleague who went up to Maine recently and was floored by the night sky-"it was incredibly beautiful". "Absolutely amazing"-unquote.She was showing other at work pictures of it on her phone.She is not an astronomer at all. I think many folks appreciate a night sky even though they are not sky addicts like all of us here on CN.

 

Think about popular song and how many star references are there for starters-"Just look at 'em stars / Must be a billion of 'em / Just doing they thing / Right where God put 'em / If this ain't heaven it's halfway there / You can feel it in the air" -Rodney Atkins (Country singer)

 

We could all use some good dark sky for our spirits and our arts and not just galaxy gazing.It will be a poor and probably spiritually bankrupt world without the stars. I almost willing to bet that the decline in religion probably loosely correlates to the loss of the night sky in developed countries.


Edited by aatt, 30 November 2018 - 10:34 AM.

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#23 TOMDEY

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 11:39 AM

I'm a Libertarian. BUT: The Feds should drive down the streets at night, unannounced, and put out the lights... cordially, at first... but NO second chances.  Tom


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#24 opticsguy

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 11:40 AM

Light  pollution will be reduced when the lawyers find a way to make money.  This is a simple task, you get in an auto accident after dark and then you can claim those LED lights that burn your retinas caused the problem.  

 

Newer vehicles with those intense, concentrated LED's are also a big problem and again, when the lawyers jump in, then change might occur.


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#25 Andrew_L

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Posted 30 November 2018 - 12:12 PM

When I was a teenager in the suburbs of New York City, I was able to see most Messier Objects from my backyard.  There are just a LOT more people around nowadays, and the trend is for more lighting: 

Wow! That picture really tells a story doesn't it! 




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