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Town Turns Off the Lights To See the Stars

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the we're-going-dark dept.

Space 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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Sounds awesome! (5, Insightful)

chrissfoot (2290640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746984)

Wish my town would do this from time to time!

Re:Sounds awesome! (4, Interesting)

XrayJunkie (2437814) | more than 2 years ago | (#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! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747164)

I thought we were worried about wasting energy...

Re:Sounds awesome! (3, Informative)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747364)

Most people are usually more worried about chopping off their fingers, falling down the stairs, and being able to watch TV.

Re:Sounds awesome! (3, Funny)

NatasRevol (731260) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748012)

I'd be most worried about car accidents. My wife can barely see at night with the lights as they are.

Re:Sounds awesome! (3, Interesting)

datavirtue (1104259) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Sounds awesome! (5, Funny)

jefe7777 (411081) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747438)

maybe his light needs to have an unfortunate accident...

Re:Sounds awesome! (3, Funny)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Sounds awesome! (2)

tixxit (1107127) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747784)

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.

Re:Sounds awesome! (3, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Sounds awesome! (2)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747740)

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! (1)

tixxit (1107127) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748018)

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.

Nice, but... (3, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 2 years ago | (#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:Nice, but... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747024)

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

Re:Nice, but... (1)

datavirtue (1104259) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747264)

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

Re:Nice, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747592)

Rocks. Lots of rocks at high velocities.

Re:Nice, but... (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747942)

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.

Re:Nice, but... (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747028)

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.

Re:Nice, but... (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747234)

Why would they skip a night of travel because the street lights are turned off?

Re:Nice, but... (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747426)

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

Re:Nice, but... (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747558)

Bicycle and foot-based traveling causes light pollution, too, unless you have infravision or the moon's visible... and in the latter case, no one will be able to see much anyway.

Re:Nice, but... (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747984)

If there's no light pollution, you can see well enough by starlight to walk and probably cycle in open areas. I don't know about forests and things though.

One of the best walks I've ever been on was a moonless night walking on country roads. There would have been some light pollution from nearby small villages, and there was a town of 2000 people about 5 miles away, but given time to adjust properly to the darkness it was amazing how many stars you could see, and there was enough light to walk around safely.

No, they're not. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747032)

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 better to use his lockpicks to break into your house.

Your "if they weren't serving any use, people wouldn't have them in the first place" is begging the question: did there have to be a use served for them to be left on 24/7?

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

biodata (1981610) | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

worse than security theater? (5, Informative)

Strange Ranger (454494) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:worse than security theater? (4, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747478)

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.

Re:worse than security theater? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38748000)

I think you misunderstood what she was after. "Ooh, look at you, you big scary man, you could do terrible things to a poor defenceless woman like me on a dark night like this. Ooh, I get the shivers just thinking about it, you terrible man."

Re:Nice, but... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747502)

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 hardly security theater. Anybody with any common sense tends to steer clear of poorly lit areas with plenty of places to hide for a reason, those are areas that are easier for criminals to use to wait for victims.

Re:Nice, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747054)

Yes. These guys obviously doesn't watch the Simpsons, they could actually have learnt from it

Re:Nice, but... (0)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747414)

Yes. These guys obviously doesn't watch the Simpsons, they could actually have learnt from it

Apparently the Simpsons is also where you have learnt [sic] spelling and grammar.

Re:Nice, but... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747524)

If you're going to be an asshole about grammar and spelling you might want to actually be correct. The doesn't is wrong and the learnt is perfectly fine. Unless you're implying that the learning happened in the future which is just ridiculous.

Re:Nice, but... (0)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747838)

If you're going to be an asshole about grammar and spelling you might want to actually be correct. The doesn't is wrong and the learnt is perfectly fine. Unless you're implying that the learning happened in the future which is just ridiculous.

Sorry, I'm in the US and this is the first time in 40+ years I've witnessed this spelling. "Lernt" is not used here, nor did I ever see it used at any of the EU companies I've worked for in the past. My spell checker flags it as incorrect. I very rarely criticize spelling and grammar as I make plenty of type-O's myself. However, combining "lernt" with "guys obviously doesn't" in such a short sentence really looked weird to me. Since it was meant as nothing more than a lighthearted joke directed at an AC, it's so kind of you to resort to name calling.

Re:Nice, but... (1)

GungaDan (195739) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747960)

Perhaps your spell checker is catching your actual misspelling, repeated twice in the above post? "Lernt" != "learnt."

Re:Nice, but... (3, Informative)

bloodmusic (223292) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747640)

In British English—or, as the British say, "English"—"learned" is used in phrases such as "a learned professor", in which case it is pronounced with two syllables.
Either "learnt" or "learned" are used interchangably in phrases like "I learnt a valuable lesson today".

Re:Nice, but... (1)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747062)

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:Nice, but... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747086)

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... (5, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Nice, but... (2)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747384)

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 Australian city. They were in awe. They'd never seen the milky way before.

Re:Nice, but... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747544)

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.

Re:Nice, but... (2)

smolloy (1250188) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748010)

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.

Re:Nice, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747154)

Wasn't there a /. article a few years ago about a new kind of street lamp designed to minimize light pollution? I'm too busy (lazy) to search for it now, but I don't think it would make much difference for people on the street. It was only intended to help nearby observatories by reducing light scatter.

Yes... (3, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#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... (5, Informative)

HopefulIntern (1759406) | more than 2 years ago | (#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... (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747190)

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... (5, Interesting)

Strange Ranger (454494) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Nice, but... (2)

HopefulIntern (1759406) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747298)

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.

Re:Nice, but... (2)

Strange Ranger (454494) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747368)

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 whit about street lights.
Rather than getting street lights up it is MUCH more effective to get employment up.

Re:Nice, but... (3, Interesting)

Xest (935314) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Nice, but... (2)

DaveHowe (51510) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747212)

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..

Re:Nice, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747290)

Real problem: Women walking home alone.

Re:Nice, but... (2)

mjr167 (2477430) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747390)

We should lock them all up in their houses for protection and require them to have a male escort to go anywhere! They would be so much safer! You could then get rid of the rape laws because clearly any woman who manged to sneak away from her protectors to get raped really wanted it so its not rape. We can then burn her at the stake for being a whore and send the man to therapy for the trauma of being tempted by the evil, coniving temptress.

Re:Nice, but... (2)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747400)

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... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Nice, but... (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747868)

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).

Re:Nice, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747184)

Yes. Two words, vashta nerada

Well, you'd think, but no, not really... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747248)

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 anything needed for "safety".
Yes, its fine if you use some nightlights to be able to see, but most of them are as bright as a desk light, if not brighter.
That is completely unneeded.
Most streetlights could be darkened by 75+% and still be useful for in-dwelling roads. (since, you know, CARS HAVE LIGHTS)
In fact, it'd probably be slightly better since car lights would be noticeable around corners and the like compared to when street lights were AS BRIGHT AS THE SUN, so you would certainly know one was coming even if you were deaf.
Imagine the energy saved by cutting all those probably thousands of streetlights in an average town, all those lights burning through that energy all night, not even needed by anyone.
They aren't known as The Unsociable Hours for no reason, nobody is about, are they lighting the place up for the rats? (I know they technically go from 8 till 6, still)
Not like cars need them, there aren't lights on the thousands of miles of road between towns.
And humans technically should be wearing luminescent clothing at night in the first place if they actually want to be safe. Most don't due to ignorance and "it looks guff". Won't be saying that when you lose your arm.

I rarely ever have the lights on after hours, besides some little LED lights to give basic definition to the room.
Rarely being if other people were around, or if I am looking for anything.
Anything that requires light should be done during the day is my thoughts on it.

The amount of energy wasted on lights is horrendously awful. Same goes with heating. Overheating houses is the worst offense.
Humans evolved OUTDOORS. Stop wasting money on so much heating. It annoys me greatly when someone is sitting there half naked and says "OH GOD ITS FREEZING PUT THE HEATING ON" or something like that. If you are too cold, put some clothes on damn it.
Some people have heating up at ridiculous levels. I remember walking in to someones house once, in to the living room, it was like walking in to a sauna without the steam.
I'm in Scotland at that. A place where it happily snows in the middle of a hot summer and nobody thinks twice about it.

Re:Nice, but... (2)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747324)

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.

Re:Nice, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747328)

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.

I don't think anybody except you is suggesting that they have no useful purpose. Just about everything has some purpose or another, no matter how contrived or minimal that purpose might be. The question is whether the purpose being served by the light is worth suffering the drawbacks. You can argue that lighting reduces crime, but that hypothesis doesn't hold up when you compare crime rates in urban areas with tons of light to rural areas with little light. It also doesn't hold up to scrutiny when you realize that most home burglaries take place during the day. People are afraid of the dark, but for their own egos they don't want to state it quite that way.

It's a one-time event, not every night... (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747344)

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:Nice, but... (3, Informative)

ks*nut (985334) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747500)

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.

Re:Nice, but... need better streetlamps (2)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747542)

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 of light that can be removed from telescopes and cameras with a simple filter. We need to outlaw all unshielded streetlamps and mandate the use of low pressure sodium lamps in them. Give cities 5 years to remove all existing old tech lighting. Not only will this give us back our skies, but will reduce our energy usage.

Night lighting conspiracy theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747554)

Actually the "night lighting agenda" is a plot by the utilities to attempt to maximize the use of their baseline power generating capacity 24 hours a day. (makes sense if you have a MBA) Humor aside, I believe that certain plants operate best if "throttled down" rather than shut down so this almost makes sense from an engineers perspective as well.

Obligatory... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747000)

Simpsons already did it.

Fear of the dark... (5, Interesting)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Fear of the dark... (5, Funny)

Nrrqshrr (1879148) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747090)

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

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

Re:Fear of the dark... (2)

Inda (580031) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747188)

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.

Re:Fear of the dark... (2)

tixxit (1107127) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747882)

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.

Re:Fear of the dark... (1)

Lluc (703772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747282)

Yeah this attitude drives me crazy. I have a friend who grew up in a dense suburb in the Northeastern US and have heard similar comments (i.e. "Wow it's really dark here, this is scary") when driving through a more rural area. We do *not* need street lights put up in front of every house in the US!!!

Amen to that (4, Informative)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Amen to that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747098)

I visited Dinosaur National Monument in Utah long time ago and for the first time saw Milky Way and billions of stars. I agree, it is awesome sight. Too bad most people will never see it with their own eyes.

Re:Amen to that (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747162)

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.

Re:Amen to that (1)

ledow (319597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747232)

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 need.

Years ago in Suffolk (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747302)

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.

Re:Amen to that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747434)

I live in the NY region and have the same troubles. Anywhere that even resembles a dark place has cops and security guards to chase you off. You need to get special permits to just see the sky here. It is kinda sad. I wonder how many people never get to see their actual surroundings any more.

Re:Amen to that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747792)

I can see the Milky Way in my town of Lewes in Sussex. It has to be a moonless and crispy clear night to get the full effect though.

Re:Amen to that (1)

shadowrat (1069614) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747910)

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?"

Good on them! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747022)

One of the most amazing sights I've ever seen was when I was staying up in Inverness in Scotland. I walked 50 yards up the road from the village, which only had two street lights, looked up into the night sky at 2am and couldn't believe all the stars I could see that I'd never seen before living in the city.

Should be something that everyone should do just once in their lives, to learn their place as a small nothing hurtling through infinite space!

Re:Good on them! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747050)

Don't even get me started on what I used to see camping in the Australian Outback beyond the back stump. Desert air dry and clear. Not a town for 100's of miles. Now in London my kids get excited if they even see a star. Sigh.....

Home (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Home (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747074)

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.

Dulverton on Slashdot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747056)

My grandmother lives in Dulverton, and most of my mother's side of my family are based in Somerset, so well done Slashdot to highlight this part of the world.

Some lighting (1)

Karlb (87776) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747112)

My town decided fairly recently to cut street lighting by around about half, they've been pretty careful to keep alley ways and paths lit. It was quite surprising to see the difference this made in seeing the stars, still not great, but I guess it's the price one pays.

Dark skies over Dulverton (1)

BertieBaggio (944287) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747118)

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

Dark skies (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747168)

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 my local area. Even my local amateur observatory is overrun with light. It gives you a real appreciation for how good the skies can be given that even though I was in the middle of nowhere there was still some ground light.
I wrapped it up around 1 AM because I just didn't want to be driving home half asleep. On the way home I came to one of the first semi-large populated areas (Kittanning, for those of you who know the local area) and I see a plume of light on the horizon. I was pissed to think that Kittanning was letting off so much light and the unbelievable contrast when compared to what I was enjoying the last couple of hours. Suddenly I started to realize that it wasn't light from Kittanning but instead was a nearly full moon rising. We simply don't get that kind of light from the moon when it's below the horizon. The light pollution is so bad that even that glow from the rising moon is washed out.
It's a shame. It really is but I don't think society is going to roll back to sensible lighting habits for a handful of people who really want to see this kind of thing. After all, why watch the night sky when Survivor is on?

Simpsons did it (1)

Lawand (1345185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747178)

S14E16 (Production code EABF11)

International Dark Sky Association (4, Informative)

AJ Mexico (732501) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747182)

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?

I don't understand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747210)

Our garden is light from the street for most of the night. It's a small dead-end. What makes me wonder most is that my wife sees it as a good thing. "You can see". Ok, but it's night, we just look out of the window, there is no need to watch the grass grow at night. I just don't get it.

Stars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747230)

The most stars I have seen in a long time is the weekend I spent on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. (Ocracoke) It is far enough off the mainland and it is just a small town that there was no light pollution. I had to catch my breath the first night when I looked up and saw all the stars.

Great Time Stargazing in Late Summer 2003 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747246)

I lived in the Midwest USA back in 2003 and during the Northeastern Blackout that lasted about a week the stargazing was phenomenal! I have never seen the stars so clearly due to the lack of light pollution. The best part about it was it occurred near the perseid meteor shower, so you could follow the meteors from horizon to horizon.

Obligatory XKCD. (1)

Robert Zenz (1680268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747340)

Starlight []

Light pollution (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747450)

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.

The sky is unbelievable in the total dark. (4, Interesting)

fredrated (639554) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747460)

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*

Re:The sky is unbelievable in the total dark. (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747726)

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

if you had a choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747484)

wouldn't you turn the stars off, and the moon, so the blacks of the display in your cabin would be more true?

The Rich Get Richer (1)

ks*nut (985334) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747528)

If security was the justification for outdoor lighting wouldn't the most affluent neighborhoods have the greatest number of lights?

Re:The Rich Get Richer (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747718)

They do, it's just they buy the good fixtures instead of the crap the poor people can afford that throw light all over the place.

IF people had the right light fixtures.... (4, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747698)

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.

Country Living (1)

RapidEye (322253) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747926)

I live out in the country in central NC, USA and do quite a bit of star gazing out in my pasture.
Occasionally I will invite coworkers that show an interest in astronomy out to my place to use my telescopes.
I always get a chuckle when they step out into the treeless pasture and see the Milky Way stretching out from horizon to horizon for the first time.
Lots of "Oh Wow" and "I Never Knew".
Most folks that live in the city don't know what they are missing and/or have just forgotten how really magnificent the night sky really is.
Quite the shame....

Blackout (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748004)

I remember during a blackout relatively near New York City being able to see so many stars. And it was dark enough that I could see satellites traveling by. That was a great day.

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