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Controlling Your Car's Lights When Observing at a Dark Location

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#1 aeajr

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 04:47 PM

We complain about light pollution.  So, we drive to remote sites where it is darker so our eyes can dark adapt.  Then we flood the place with light from our cars.   That’s not good. 

 

It takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to fully dark adapt.  It takes only a couple of seconds for car lights, any of your car’s lights, to destroy that so that you have to wait another 20 minutes to get dark adapted again.   And this gets even worse if you are at a group observing session where people pull in with their lights blaring and wipe out everyone’s dark adaption.  

 

Be considerate and learn how to control your car’s lights. If you can’t control the lights on your car you may defeat the reason you went to the dark site. And if you are in a group you soon soon become very unpopular with the other observers.  They might even leave you out of the invitation list.   If you can’t control your car’s lights, consider going with someone who can.

 

So, let’s discuss tips and tricks for controlling the lights on our cars.  I will share mine.  PLEASE ADD YOURS

 

 


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#2 aeajr

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 04:51 PM

Head Lights – Many cars have a switch on a stalk on the steering column or on the dashboard where you can control the head lights.   If you have automatic on headlights they are probably on a Auto setting, but you will have others.  Find the one that lets you keep the headlights off even when you take it out of Park.  If you don’t know how, consult your owner’s manual.

 

Arriving – Got to parking lights only and turn your headlights off as soon as you get close to the observing area.  While your parking lights are annoying they are not as destructive as the headlights.

Parking your Car – Always park your car so the headlights face away from the observing area.  This is especially important if you are at a group observing session.   When leaving, if you have your headlights blazing, at least they are turned away from the group.   No telling where they will find your body  Winking smile if you flash everyone with your headlights.

 

Brake Lights - When you step on the brakes, those brake lights will blaze brilliantly and the fact that they are red won’t help much, but it is better than bright white headlights.  Minimize your time on the brake pedal.  Don’t sit there with your foot on the brake while you buckle up or adjust the radio or ???

 

Interior Lights – every car I have ever owned has a switch on the ceiling lights that sets them to off/on/automatic so they come on when you open a door.  Find that switch, often on the light or a ceiling cluster, and set it to off when you are going to a dark location.  If you have an SUV or similar vehicle, there is probably a separate control for the rear light on the light itself.

 

Dashboard lights – there is an intensity setting switch or dial so that you can adjust how bright your instrument panel is at night.  Find it and set it as low as possible, perhaps even all the way off.  Otherwise every time you open a door you instrument panel lights may come on and there goes your dark adaption.

 

Parking and/or perimeter lights – These can be the hardest to control.  The often come on if you lock or unlock the car or open the door.  See if you can control these too. On my car, if I turn the headlight control to off the parking/perimeter lights stay off too.

 

Key Fob – if you use your clicker to lock and unlock your car, you will most likely have the perimeter lights come on, lighting up the area.  See if there is a way to lock and unlock your car without the lights coming on.  Or, leave the car unlocked and see if the perimeter lights stay off when you open a door.  Mine stay off if I have them turned off.

 

I have attached photos of the control zones on my Nissan Rogue.  Chances are yours look similar. 

 

How do you figure this out?  The Owner’s Manual.  It will tell you how to control the lights in your car.  

 

I have had people tell me that they can’t control the lights in their car.  What that means is that they never looked or never thought it would be important.   But once you become an astronomy enthusiast, it becomes important.

 

How to operate your car’s lights
https://www.youtube....h?v=3sFK6CHDJpY

Attached Thumbnails

  • Nissan Headlight and perimiter light control stalk (240x320).jpg
  • Nissan SUV rear light with switch (240x320).jpg
  • Nissan dashboard light level control (240x320).jpg
  • Nissan overhad light control (240x320).jpg

Edited by aeajr, 18 February 2020 - 04:53 PM.

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#3 wrnchhead

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 05:07 PM

My girlfriend's 2014 Honda Accord has a couple of white lights that will not go off no matter what you do short of pulling fuses. The instrument panel is lighting and interior lighting is uncontrollable other than the dome lights. If the ignition is on or engine is running, there are lights inside and out that are going to be on. It is incredibly frustrating. I work at a Chevrolet dealership and all new vehicles have some sort of automatic headlight malarkey when the key is on. (Can generally be turned off, but has to be done every key-on) The reverse lights come on when the door is open. It's awful. I prefer my daughter's 2003 Tacoma or my 1995 Firebird where you have total control of the lights, locks, etc. 

 

Fortunately I don't have friends so no one else is offended lol.gif


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#4 JohnBear

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 05:32 PM

Old spy/surveillance trick: Use your parking/hand brake when moving slowly near the observing area to slow down or stop your car - that generally does not activate the brake lights. 


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#5 LDW47

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 05:49 PM

Your headlites should be left on until you leave a public roadway that you are travelling to the dark site on, I am sure it is the law in the US the same as in Canada ! But you should make sure your high beams and fog lites are off well in advance, at least.


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#6 ascii

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 06:36 PM

Gaffer tape for the host of minor lights that can't be otherwise controlled.  It doesn't leave residue as easily as duct tape.


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#7 NYJohn S

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 06:55 PM

Ed, I remember when we were at Custer the dome was near the parking lot and people were coming and going all night so it was impossible to dark stay dark adapted. I guess that goes with the territory when doing outreach since most people don't realize the harm they're doing by leaving their lights on.

 

I think I finally have my lights figured out on my Chevy Equinox but whenever possible the best strategy is get there while it's light out and be the last to leave.


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#8 aeajr

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 07:05 PM

Gaffer tape for the host of minor lights that can't be otherwise controlled. It doesn't leave residue as easily as duct tape.


I have used 3M painter's tape. Holds well and comes off clean. Not completely opaque, but close enough.
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#9 RyanSem

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 07:17 PM

Wish there was a way to completely shut off my Civic's headlights. I've tried time and time again to no avail. 

 

The only solution I have is to show up early, leave last. Or, just park around the corner. The only groups I've observed with in the past were all fine with car lights coming on as long as it was infrequent. Usually we'd have a bunch of people leave after a couple hours, then the rest of us would leave in the dead of night. As long as you get enough warning it's not hard to cover your eyes for the couple of minutes it takes for your friends to pack up and leave. 


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#10 TOMDEY

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 07:17 PM

hi, aeajr - great topic!

 

And, actually, the biggest reason that I go to Star Parties with no intent to image or even do serious Dark Sky observing. I just pre-reconcile myself to only socializing and enjoying the event, keeping in mind that my ~serious~ observing will be solo, few experienced friends, remote, desolate. I keep a lid on my lights and stroll with only one feeble little red LED pointed at the ground or off. And the white one in my pocket, reserved only for true emergency use. Otherwise, it's near guaranteed gnashing of teeth, as people are trying to image or get and stay dark-adapted. And, the bigger the event, the more certain the field will get whacked with high-beams, at irregular intervals. All it takes is one person, one wrong button... and there goes the darkness!

 

Related: Even at our optics labs, aerospace imager builds. We just couldn't get permission to turn off the emergency exit lights, even when trying to do stray light measurements! So, we would lock the lab from the inside, and the techs would sneak opaque black shrouds over every darned light source, even black tape over the door edges, floor cracks, instrument LEDs, computers. I've become entirely convinced that no ones, other than astronomers, understand the meaning of true darkness!    Tom

Attached Thumbnails

  • 03 Highbeams headlights dark adaptation DOH.jpg

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#11 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 07:22 PM

Any dealer, so inclined, can, with a dealer computer, put a vehicle into "police mode" or "police surveillance mode", whichever; they are same.  That allows for turning off all lighting for stealth.  I researched it and had it done to my Ford F150. 


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#12 f430

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 07:24 PM

Wish there was a way to completely shut off my Civic's headlights. I've tried time and time again to no avail. 

 

 

On my Toyota, if you pull the hand brake up to just the first notch/click, then start your engine, the headlights will not go on!

The first notch/click does not actually apply any braking, and once your out in the clear, just let the hand brake down all the way, and on come the headlights!

John


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#13 RyanSem

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 07:27 PM

On my Toyota, if you pull the hand brake up to just the first notch/click, then start your engine, the headlights will not go on!

The first notch/click does not actually apply any braking, and once your out in the clear, just let the hand brake down all the way, and on come the headlights!

John

That's a convenient workaround! Unfortunately my Civic has an electronic parking brake. Wish I could have tried that trick though!

 

 

Also, I agree with Tom up above... if I'm going to a big public event where I know there are going to be people ignorant of the rules (not their fault most of the time) then I just resolve myself to sticking mainly to planets and other bright objects. This is why I often only observe with one or two other people, and we all agree on a general start and end time beforehand. 


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#14 wrnchhead

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 07:38 PM

Any dealer, so inclined, can, with a dealer computer, put a vehicle into "police mode" or "police surveillance mode", whichever; they are same.  That allows for turning off all lighting for stealth.  I researched it and had it done to my Ford F150. 

We are not allowed to do that. The VIN is logged with GM and the programming interface disallows it. Now, there may be some case where you can circumvent it, but it's nothing easily done without talking to GM directly. 


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#15 aa6ww

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 08:10 PM

I'm all into arriving early and leaving at sunrise.
At my astronomical Societies Star Parties, when someone has to leave early, we have them put their car in neutral and a few people will push their car beyond the point where the people are set up.
I tend to bury myself deep in the early crowd or astronomers since that means I'm stuck there till sunrise.


...Ralph

Edited by aa6ww, 18 February 2020 - 08:13 PM.

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#16 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 09:04 PM

We are not allowed to do that. The VIN is logged with GM and the programming interface disallows it. Now, there may be some case where you can circumvent it, but it's nothing easily done without talking to GM directly. 

That's GM.  I talked to Ford, explained the situation, and they sent me instructions to give to the dealer directing how to do it.  If Ford can do it, so can GM, if they choose to.

 

My F150 is a stealthy truck now.  When I open the doors, nothing happens.


Edited by John Fitzgerald, 18 February 2020 - 09:09 PM.

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#17 Stardust Dave

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 09:10 PM

"So, let’s discuss tips and tricks for controlling the lights on our cars.  I will share mine.  PLEASE ADD YOURS"

 

If I am attending a several day event example GSSP , I will remove a battery terminal in the minivan for the 3-4 days of the event so I will not be that guy who hits his key fob and lights up the field. 

 

"I'm going to a big public event where I know there are going to be people ignorant of the rules (not their fault most of the time) then I just resolve myself to sticking mainly to planets and other bright objects"

 

"I just pre-reconcile myself to only socializing and enjoying the event, keeping in mind that my ~serious~ observing will be solo"

 

Sad but true. Really unfair to the participants driving 6 to 8 hours plus expecting to go deep & taking full advantage of the first-rate skies and following the event rules agreed to beforehand. 

 

But yes would agree to remain sane one has to expect several attendees to accidentally actuate their headlights at the event and expect to loose dark adaption a few times.


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#18 jerobe

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 09:36 PM

I take several dark towels with me to star parties. They come in handy to cover table, charts, gear, etc, when the dew starts to form. They also can be used to cover headlights, taillights and the instrument panel if I need to leave early. I use blue masking tape to secure the towels to the vehicle for the few minutes that I am using them.


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#19 MikiSJ

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 09:50 PM

Gaffer tape for the host of minor lights that can't be otherwise controlled.  It doesn't leave residue as easily as duct tape.

Everyone, not just us here, should have a roll of gaffer's tape. I would recommend it in place of Duct/Duck tape (which is not meant for metal ducts, BTW).

 

It might not be available at your local hardware/big box store but Amazon and others have it at good prices.


Edited by MikiSJ, 18 February 2020 - 10:04 PM.

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#20 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 10:40 PM

At places like Texas Star Party, driving at night is prohibited unless there is an emergency.  In the rare event of having to drive there at night, full headlights are recommended in the name of safety.  Someone could easily be run over by a vehicle driving dark, or with park lights only.


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#21 Astrojedi

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 10:58 PM

Well my SUV’s auto headlight function cannot be switched off. I have cut out foam liner to cover the headlights. I stick them on the headlights just before I start the car, then once I have pulled out of the dark site I take them off otherwise nothing is visible on the country road full of potholes. It is kludgy but does the job.


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#22 Cames

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 11:01 PM

If you must move your vehicle with lights on, give the others a warning before lighting up the party zone.  This way they can preemptively turn away and shield their eyes for the several seconds it takes you to leave the area. 

 

Courtesy and cooperation benefits all. Establish the suggested method of warning the field before startup to leave. Sooner or later, it will be we ourselves facing the need for an early exit from the observing field. Irritation and resentment are thus avoided and enjoyment can continue to flow.

-----------

C


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#23 sunnyday

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 11:07 PM

I have a murano platinium 2020 and it is impossible to close the lights, as soon as the engine is running boom the lights too. I live in canada and here the lights come on automatically, even if the emergency brake is just push  a little, nothing to do.

 

So I'm going to have to be pushed by hand, volunteers?


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#24 fingerguns

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 11:15 PM

I’ve been searching off and on for red LED replacement interior bulbs for my 2018 Honda Fit. So far I haven’t come up with anything but I’ll keep looking. I’d love to be able to open up the rear hatch without setting my eyes back 20 minutes. 
 


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#25 paul

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Posted 18 February 2020 - 11:24 PM

in my Subaru forester I pull the fuse that way I get no running or interior lights


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