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Light Pollution – Time to Act

Most of us who have access to the Internet have seen the "Earth at Night" image published by NASA. To the lay person, that image may appear fascinating, which, in a sense, it is. To the astronomer, on the other hand, that image tells the lamentable tale of glowing skies and spurious lines in stellar spectra. Yet, that picture conveys more than glowing continents and vanishing stars – it warns us of the consequences of the gluttonous rate at which we are consuming fossil fuels.

I enjoy the fortnightly privilege of having a farm to visit, far from cities or large towns, where the sky is still dark. But, when I return to my home in Wellington on Sunday nights, I cannot help but experience a feeling of despair when I notice how indiscriminately residential areas have been illuminated in recent years. It is then that I realize that the time has come to act. As a result, I propose to initiate a project which I shall now briefly describe in reversed order of importance.

Starting with the secondary objective, a goal of the project would be to carry out a country-wide sky brightness survey. This would require the development of a sky photometer of which a number would be produced and supplied to volunteers, presumably amateur and professional astronomers, as well as science teachers at schools, colleges and universities, who would perform the necessary measurements as part of an educational science project. As far as possible, the photometers would be assembled by suitably trained unemployed individuals, thereby providing them with certain skills that may improve their chance of finding work. The end result of the sky survey would be a map indicating current light pollution levels, which would be of some scientific value, as well as establishing a reference for future surveys.

However, the primary objective of the proposed project would be to create public awareness of the need to conserve energy in a world where fossil fuel reserves are rapidly dwindling. If this could be achieved we, as astronomers, may yet enjoy dark skies on our urban doorstep. But, more importantly, if this could be achieved in Southern Africa, we, as members of the human race, may yet enjoy peace of mind in the knowledge that we have made a difference. I therefore invite those who may be interested in this proposal to contact me by e-mail at [], or on 082 574 5159.

(Chris de Villiers)

[Letters to the Editor, MNASSA, 2004 October]



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