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If us oldies were just starting now as kids? Would light pollution stop us

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#1 grif 678

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Posted 13 September 2021 - 08:09 PM


I remember how dark the skies were when I was a kid, I remember how many stars and fuzzies I could see, and the milky way was so visible. Now living only a couple miles from where I was raised, I can hardly see anything now but lights from so many places, and the sky is pitiful. When we started 50 to 60 years ago, I guess the dark skies were what made us so eager about observing the sky, and that is how most of us got started, we could see SO much more. I just wonder how many of us would have gotten very far in this hobby if the skies back then were like they are now?

I think it would have stopped many of us, except the die hard who take it the most serious, and us casual observers just maybe would have not kept doing it.

I think that maybe planetary observers may have made it through, with long focus refractors that keep the sky darker, but the light buckets would not be so popular, because the skies are just too light for them. Now I am just talking to us who have seen the sky change so much, I know that some of you may still be lucky to have had no development nearby, and you still have dark skies, you are lucky indeed.

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#2 zxx


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Posted 13 September 2021 - 08:22 PM

Charles had it good, not one lightbulb on the planet.



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Posted 13 September 2021 - 08:27 PM

I fondly/nostalgically recall the wonderfully-dark (by today's standards) skies from "Inner City" Rochester, NY back around 1950. From the roof of our house, the constellations and Milky Way were beautifully-visible. I'm guessing that I was easily seeing mag six with my young eyes from there and then. Same rooftop... tonight... would be laughable/cryable/entirely hopeless...


Here's what the few and far between street lights looked like back then. They were warmly dim down-pointing that illuminated just a pleasant little blush of light below, so pedestrians could safely walk the sidewalks at night... all night, knowing that the only people they would greet would be other strolling neighbors and Officer Brooks.   Tom

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#4 Creedence


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Posted 13 September 2021 - 09:38 PM

Light pollution may not stop newcomers, but it seems, it won't be dark skies that start them.  As light pollution expands its reach, it may increasingly be things like the billionaire space race, Artemis, JWST, Event Horizon, etc., etc., that draw newcomers in- as Apollo probably did for city-bound budding astronomers in its day.


The night sky is evolving, but so is technology.  Where observers of years past  had (comparatively) rudimentary tools to point at (comparatively) exceptional skies, modern newcomers have iphone-enabled go-to systems, increasingly (nearing the point of ready accessibility for the absolute layperson) user-friendly EAA systems.  The maturation of EAA technology and systems to the point of true "plug and play" levels of user-friendliness may be their saving grace.  


As a modern analogue to the many stories shared here, I can envision a time when a 10 year old gets their first telescope Christmas morning and is able to capture "social media-worthy" images of M42 that first night with no hassle setting up and initializing the system.  **Just typing that feels dystopian in many ways to me** but they would be instant evangelists for astronomy amongst their peers, so in a round-about way, it may be a good development.


The particulars of amateur astronomy's emerging future could be debated ad infinitum... well until they actual emerge anyway, but I think budding enthusiasts may benefit from technology despite lacking in the quality of their natural resources.

Edited by Creedence, 13 September 2021 - 09:55 PM.

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#5 RalphMeisterTigerMan


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Posted 13 September 2021 - 10:39 PM

I started out doing Amateur Astronomy living in the Suburbs of Vancouver, South Van as we called it. Mercury Vapour street lights, neighbours porch lights and not that terribly far from the light of Downtown. It was quite a challenge for a 10 year old to learn Astronomy by reading as much as he could, watching the occasional documentary and learning the Night Sky with Edmund's Planisphere. Sure, light pollution was not as bad as it is now but none-the-less it was still quite visible.


So I'm not sure how much difference it would have made especially once our "observer's group" journeyed out to our designated observing site where it was nice and dark.


Clear skies and keep looking up!


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#6 qswat72


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Posted 13 September 2021 - 10:49 PM

Funnily enough, it were dark skies that got me into the hobby mid last year. Was lucky enough to travel out to rural Montana where you could see the Milky Way clearly with the naked eye. I live in a Bortle 6 zone, so I’d never actually seen it before. Despite not being able to see it from home, that moment pretty much sums up how I got started.

Also a big reason as to why I took up imaging instead of visual observing. Being that you can see so much more despite the LP with a camera, it made the dark skies not as big a priority.
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#7 bumm



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Posted 13 September 2021 - 10:50 PM

The greying of amateur astronomers is a topic that comes up with some frequency in here, and while some point out that their astronomy club is getting new, young, members, I think that the phenomenon is real.  A look at pictures of amateur star parties, etc, in old Sky & Telescopes reinforces that view.  While I think there will always be young people interested in the science of the universe, it's hard for me to see how younger kids could develop an interest in going out in the night and viewing the sky when they can only see a few of the brightest stars.  There's a big difference between viewing objects on a screen and standing outside and letting the universe wash over you like surf.  I've read that some inner city kids have actually never seen a star.  And due to that electronic monument to ignorance and fear that we call light pollution, I see pretty dim prospects for many future stargazers ever developing an interest.


Edited by bumm, 13 September 2021 - 10:55 PM.

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#8 tlindema


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Posted 13 September 2021 - 10:58 PM

I got a lot of fun out of lunar and planetary observations even without the best skies within the last 10 years, since these are not going to be affected by LP. I assume this will continue to be the case for people younger than me. Even though some "purists" may preach that the experience with astrophotography is inferior to visual, IMO it's still the best way to experience DSOs, especially when battling light pollution. Of course, this doesn't solve everything. My 8" DOB cost me $500 10 years ago. I've spent probably 6x that on my AP gear.

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#9 Tony Flanders

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 06:34 AM

I grew up spending 9 months a year in New York City and three months a year at my family's country home -- where I am right now, as I write this. Neither location was significantly darker 50 years ago than it is now.

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 08:47 AM

We are few and will remain few. Now and then somebody will get interested in what you actually can see when looking up. One person in a hundred to one in a thousand.

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#11 Alex65


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Posted 14 September 2021 - 10:24 AM

There was light pollution in the small town and army base that I lived in as a tween / teen, though not as much as is the case today.


That was back between 1972 - 1979 and I really became interested in astronomy via the last Apollo moon landings (especially with those moon buggies and the dramatic lunar hills as backdrops), the Skylab station and the solar observations they undertook and, most of all, the NASA space probes to the planets, especially the Viking landers in 1976 and the 1979 fly past of Jupiter. Thus my main interests were of the immediate solar system, where it has really stayed since that time. I do look at DSOs but they're not really my thing if I'm honest.


The very first astronomic event that I observed, naked eye, was a total lunar eclipse in September 1978. I can't believe that it was 43 years ago! That one event really got me hooked onto lunar observing, something that has lasted until now.


I viewed my first planet, Jupiter, as it rose over the light polluted army base where my dad was stationed one January evening in 1979 and it was a great view despite the sodium glow of the lights.


So I suppose that if I were starting out again as a tween now, and I had the same stimuli and interests, then I probably wouldn't have been too discouraged by light pollution.

#12 Sketcher


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Posted 14 September 2021 - 11:03 AM

It seems assumed that the specifics of one person's past as contrasted to their present is similar to that of everyone else.  This simply isn't so.


Yes, I started out long enough ago to relate to the "50 to 60 years ago" contrasted with the present; but other than that, everything has been different for me.


With my first telescope, I concentrated on the moon, the planets, and the sun -- primarily.  Especially the moon, since I could see so much there.  A good portion of my time was spent matching my eyepiece views with moon maps, and learning the names that go along with the features I was seeing.  For such things, light pollution would have made no difference at all.


OK, so I also observed some deep-sky objects.  Then there was naked-eye observing -- learning a few constellations, seeing bright auroras without any travel necessary, and going out with family and neighbors to look for naked-eye comets when the popular media said they were there to be seen.  On the other hand, I don't recall actually seeing any of those comets.  My first comet was found on my own, without the presence of others at my side.  It was early in the morning as opposed to all the community attempts that involved evening comets.


Then there's my light-pollution situation now versus then.  Well, for the past several decades my skies have been darker than they were back in those days.  So am i supposed to assume that I would have a much more light-polluted sky now than I did then?


And what about all the other differences between then and now?  To me, there have been far more significant changes than light-pollution that could potentially change my path.  Starting out young in the present would be extremely different for me than it was in my past.  There's the Internet, streaming movies, all manner of electronic and non-electronic "distractions" that were non-existent in my past.  Similarly, I had "distractions" in my past that would likely not surface in the present time frame.


So, for me, it wouldn't be the light-pollution that would likely stand in my way.  Instead it would be all the advances that have been made in the world of electronics, the comforts of living, what I'm exposed to (or not exposed to) of the world around me.


Gone is all the talk and media coverage about the manned space program -- Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.  Gone is the newness of satellites.  Gone is being "entertained" by simple things.  Gone (solved) are some of the unsolved science mysteries that might have influenced my choices in the past.  Gone would be the prospects of visual comet-hunting (and not because of light-pollution).


If I were just starting out today, there's absolutely no way of predicting if I would develop an interest in astronomy.  I would be growing up in a different world.  I would be exposed to different influences.  Light-pollution would (for me) be far down on the list of things that might change my direction of travel, my choices in my hobbies.


So yeah, light-pollution is a big deal in the present world of amateur astronomy.  It has an immense impact on some of us.  But it doesn't effect all of us equally; and for some of us, perhaps most of us,  there are other factors that would be of greater significance in determining if we would get into this hobby if we were just starting out as youngsters today.

Edited by Sketcher, 14 September 2021 - 11:22 AM.

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#13 jerobe


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Posted 14 September 2021 - 11:20 AM

Growing up in the 1950s on a farm in a rural area, I had very dark skies and enjoyed my naked eye views of the night sky.  We had no telescope.  When the space race began, that was when my real interest in astronomy got started. I would go out every night to see if I could spot a satellite, and began to appreciate and learn about the stars and planets.


Although kids today have serious light pollution to contend with, they also have viewing techniques, technologies, outreach events, astronomy clubs and internet sites to learn about what's in the sky.  And there's still a space race to help spark that interest.

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 11:33 AM

There's no question that light pollution discourages some from the hobby. It makes it harder to find things, and the night sky and deep sky objects are less impressive in light pollution as well. Undoubtedly some people either get discouraged when they can't find/see anything, or they are uninspired by what they see.


To ask this question in a forum full of highly committed amateur astronomers invites an obvious selection bias. I started out in heavy light pollution but I can say that I use my telescope far less than I would if I had a dark sky.

#15 bunyon


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Posted 14 September 2021 - 12:21 PM

I think LP certainly doesn't help. But it's a hurdle that can be overcome if one is simply wanting to engage the universe. With technology, variable star monitoring and planetary imaging can be accomplished well from quite light polluted places. 


As to the graying of the hobby, yes, it's real. It's also long been with us. I'm not gray yet but have almost 40 years hanging out with amateurs and, in that time, it's always been older guys. When you're building a career and raising kids, it's a lot harder to get out with a scope in a socially obvious way. Once the career is stable/over and the kids are gone, all these guys come out of the woodwork (hopefully in future, there will be more women joining the party). 


That's the optimistic take. For my own part, the universe first beckoned from a fairly dark rural sky. Would I have been interested if I'd grown up in a city, as many of you did? No way to know but there is, at least, a reasonable chance that I wouldn't have stuck with it.

#16 rhetfield


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Posted 14 September 2021 - 03:20 PM

If I had the light pollution then that I have now, it is likely that I would have found almost nothing besides the moon and bright planets with the 60/700 Tasco I had back then.

#17 ShaulaB



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Posted 14 September 2021 - 03:32 PM

Good question.

Lots of us started out viewing the Moon. It is easy to find, blasts out plenty of light, and is available to most folks for over two weeks out of a month. Bright naked eye planets are the usually next targets. So light pollution would probably not hinder a noobie if they started with bright, easy objects.

Lots of teens, and most over 20, now have their own cars. This was not the case in my neck of the woods fifty years ago. So driving to darker skies would be less of an issue.

Awareness of light pollution as a problem is much higher now than back in the day. With the Internet, new folks can find out about IDA (International Darksky Association) and how to locate a dark site. Dark sky maps can be found quickly on the internet. We did not have these resources when we were young.

#18 grif 678

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 06:30 PM

When I started this topic, I was mainly referring to us that grew up with telescope 60 years ago, not the ones in the last 5 or 10 years. We did not have the technology to have our scope find things for us, we did it our self. That is what I am referring to, whether US who started 60 or more years ago, would have kept going if the skies were like they are now.

#19 25585


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Posted 15 September 2021 - 06:23 AM

Yes. Binoculars and a small refractor with a few eyepieces only definitely.


Not just light pollution but climate change has robbed where I live of dark clear skies. My amassed kit I keep for nostalgic reasons reminding me of my views of yesteryear.

#20 bunyon


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Posted 15 September 2021 - 08:48 AM

Sixty years is a long time in the modern world. Aside from basic human stuff, no one growing up today is experiencing a similar environment as someone growing up in 1961. 


Of course, any kid in 1961 was experiencing a wildly different world from that of someone growing up in 1901. I suspect kids in 2081 will not have much in common with kids of today, either. 



Again, the human condition is the same in all those times. But the external stimuli are very, very different.

#21 csrlice12



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Posted 15 September 2021 - 09:15 AM

I'm thinking I might respond to that ad for  XX acres of land for $10 an acre in Colorado .....by now I'd be enjoying my land, or sold it for a small fortune.....

Edited by csrlice12, 15 September 2021 - 09:16 AM.

#22 jimkz400d3



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Posted 15 September 2021 - 11:13 AM

I grew up in a suburb/ rural area. I just loved laying on the ground and just stare into space. If I grew up in a city I doubt I would have even looked up, except to see the moon. Maybe someone might have pointed out Jupiter or Venus to me. So to answer the OP question, yes light pollution would have definitely diminished my enthusiasm.
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#23 Stargezzer


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Posted 15 September 2021 - 12:45 PM

Light pollution probably wouldn't stop me but satellite pollution might. I find more and more frames with satellite lines than ever every time I run an AP session. 

#24 FirstSight


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Posted 15 September 2021 - 01:21 PM

Newer housing developments also tend to be configured in a way significantly less hospitable to observing the night sky than are older ones, even given the  leafier canopy typical of older ones.  While more recent developers' environmentally destructive practice of starting out by razing every living thing off a multi-acre tract before constructing anything else has a perverse potential side effect of opening up the view, the density and configuration of newer developments usually completely negates that potential benefit with structural obstacles and a proliferation of unshielded lighting. There's also the added aggravation that in too many of these newer developments, the streets are outfitted with hideous unshielded globe-style streetlighting (the kind that faux-mimics early 1900s urban gaslights) that are far more destructive to the ability to view the night sky than even standard LED streetlights.


The immediate local conditions within such developments are severe inhibitors to potential interest in astronomy, even apart from general urban/suburban skyglow within metro areas.  For that matter, folks willingly selecting such neighborhoods for their housing don't tend to be among those with the likeliest potential to develop or encourage (e.g. their kids) to become interested in observing the night sky.  Every night in such neighborhoods, there are multiple artificial full moons visible which are far brighter and more obvious than Earth's single natural moon.

#25 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 15 September 2021 - 03:24 PM

The skies were dark in the small town where I grew up.  I can't help but think that today's light-polluted skies are a detriment to many who might otherwise get interested in observational astronomy.

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