Updated 05 Sep 2012
The view almost all of us had from home only 25 - 50 years ago... and what the vast majority of Americans now see from their backyard. These photos show approximately the same area of the sky; one was taken from a dark sky site and one was taken from outside a small city (Springfield, MA). Which scene do you find more appealing? Would you be pleased to learn that you as a taxpayer are likely paying money to produce some of the scourge seen on the right?
Light Pollution is a serious problem for most amateur astronomers today (see the pictures just above). The picture on the left was taken at a dark sky location (Colebrook, CT USA); the photo on the right was taken from Wilbraham MA USA looking towards Springfield, MA (A city of about 200,000 people). The light pollution in the Springfield MA area is very bad (and Springfield is considered a small city by most people). Unless you live way out from civilization, you will have to contend with this ever increasing problem. To be fully away from the effects of light pollution, you must be approximately 100 miles or more away from any city... in many parts of the country you cannot get this far away without going into the ocean! The unfortunate part is that the vast majority of Americans do not even know that light pollution exists. If we could turn light pollution into the equivalent of "noise pollution" for just one day (or night), there would be widespread public outcry! No reasonable person would tolerate it. To an astronomer, Light Pollution is analogous to having a sewage treatment plant located in the middle of a residential neighborhood. And, unless some major and widespread changes are made soon, Light Pollution may soon completely obliterate the nighttime view of the sky (with the exception of the Moon and planets). Most cities today are so brightly lit up that it is equivalent to (or worse than) having a Full Moon out every night! Part of the reason for the excessive levels of light in cities is due to poor lighting designs. All of the unnecessary light in the night sky translates to wasted energy. The cost is not just a higher electric bill; there are long term ramifications (like air pollution from burning all the extra fuel to generate the "wasted" light). Also, many lighting fixtures cause worse visibility because of the excessive glare they produce. Everyone can benefit from improved lighting; lower tax bills, less air pollution, improved visibility and more. It is in the best interest of everyone to reduce light pollution!
After talking to many people and looking at the subject of light pollution for a period of years, it appears that there are three major factors that come into play: Ignorance, Apathy and Greed.
So what is the summary of all this? Few people seem to know what light pollution is, and a good portion of those who do hear about it could not care less about it. However, they should care! A significant portion of the light pollution that exists does NOT have to exist. Further, the public PAYS MONEY for much of it! How many people would be happy if they were told "you are going to pay money for something that is not needed and it also causes several kinds of pollution"? Some will say, "How can light cause pollution"? The answer is not difficult. The electricity that is needed to power the lights has to be generated, either from burning coal, oil, or from nuclear sources (there is some hydroelectric, but that is a small percentage of all power generated in the US). Burning fossil fuel and use of nuclear power causes conventional forms of pollution (CO2, particulate matter, nuclear waste, etc). Despite what some people think, we do have a situation in the US where we have limited resources. So, it makes sense to use them up more quickly while at the same time causing additional forms of pollution, waste and the problems that come with it? I would think that any reasonable person would agree this does NOT make sense. Even if one has no interest in astronomy, they should agree that using up limited resources to cause other waste an incredibly wasteful practice. However, it continues to get worse, and few people seem to care about it. Fixing all of the light pollution in the US is not going to solve all the problems of energy shortage. However, unlike many problems we face, there are clear cut and workable solutions available now (proper lighting design) that are not costly and will help to cut back on this waste. So, WHY NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEM?
The photo above is a composite, it shows what the skies would look like in a dark sky. The telescope in the photo above is the scope I dreamed of having as a kid (it was over $4000 in the 1970s, obviously out of the question for me to afford). Twenty nine years after first wanting this telescope I did manage to acquire one. However, the skies where I live today are so light polluted, this scope's power has been considerably reduced. Given the opportunity, I think I'd take the backyard skies I had as a kid (not too far from the image above) with the far less capable telescope I had as a teen.
A comprehensive listing of Light Pollution articles can be found at the bottom of this page. Thanks to Cliff Haas for providing this detailed list!
Gee... I wonder why we can't see the stars anymore? Car dealerships are obsessed with trying to blast as much light as possible (do they really think it actually influences people to buy more cars)? Why are these lights on all night long (when the dealership is not even open for business)? Worried about theft? There are a large number of security cameras available today (with night vision capability) along with data recorders. These systems are not that costly and could be used to get the hard evidence needed to deal with prosecution. So why not use this equipment?
Can't get away from it. Even at a distance of 38 miles from downtown Springfield MA one cannot escape the degradation caused by thousands of poorly designed and improperly installed lights. This shot was taken from Arunah Hill. The skies at AH are generally pretty good for southern New England, however on nights when there is any appreciable moisture or particulates in the air the entire southeastern sky is compromised. On the night this shot was taken, the glow from 38 miles away was sufficient to cast shadows. Anyone who thinks this is not a waste of energy is absolutely misinformed!
The space below contains my personal observations and comments on Light Pollution and related topics. Newest entries appear at the bottom. My comments are mostly serious in nature, but some display a bit of sarcasm from time to time. Sadly, Light Pollution is silently and rapidly taking away one of nature's most beautiful sights: the night sky. I am often greatly frustrated by this not only because I can no longer see the sky the way I once could, but also because much of the Light Pollution which exists today is completely unnecessary! It will be a formidable task simply to halt the spread of light pollution, let alone reduce it. It is hoped that readers of this page will learn about the benefits to be had by reducing light pollution, benefits which help all of us, not just those of us who enjoy looking at the night sky!
IT IS MY BELIEF that the largest current threat to the future of amateur astronomy is rapid spread of excessive light pollution. The Milky Way can now be seen only marginally even on the best nights from my original observing site in Wilbraham, MA. In 1975, the sky there was quite dark and the Milky Way was often brilliant. Hundreds of deep sky objects were visible with a modest 2.4" telescope! In less than 20 years, a good observing site has been severely compromised (and it will only continue to degrade). In cities of even modest size, it really never gets dark as far as astronomy is concerned. I was better off in the dark sky of 1975 with a 2.4" scope than I am today using a 6" reflector...
I travel by airplane frequently and have been very attentive to how light pollution looks from the air. From 15 or 20 thousand feet, a typical big city appears to be enveloped in a "dome of glowing garbage". From the vantage point in the sky, it is a wonder that anything is visible from in or around a city!
The view of the sky from an airplane (despite the usually dirty and highly scratched windows) reveals that the background is very black. The most noticeable affect is the visibility of faint stars right down to the horizon. From southern California (at ground level), the star Canopus is visible but is pitifully faint compared to stars in Orion (which Canopus would otherwise outshine if it were at a comparative altitude). From 35000 feet up (somewhere over Colorado), Canopus was very bright, almost as bright as Sirius. Of course, at 35000 feet there is almost no air (compared to sea level) so stars near the horizon appear much brighter than people are used to seeing them. If only airplanes had clean and unscratched windows!
It seems that more and more people are installing floodlights (presumably because they "reduce crime"). For those worried about crime, why not install a floodlight that is motion sensor operated? This way, if someone is trying to "sneak" onto a property, they will get quite a surprise when the light comes on! In addition, the fact that the light came on tells the property owner that something is going on and warrants investigation. Since the light only stays on for 5 minutes or so, a nearby astronomer would not be "shut out" for the night. Further, the power consumed by a motion sensing floodlight is far less than one that stays on all night. Most people don't realize how much it costs to operate a floodlight on a regular basis. Assume a typical 300 watt floodlight, which is left on for 8 hours per night. We'll assume electricity costs 10 cents per kWH. The calculation follows: 0 .3 (the kW value of the bulb) x 8 (# of hours it's on per night) x 30 (number of nights in a typical month) x 0.1 (the cost of electricity in dollars per kWH) = $7.20 per month. This may not seem like a lot to some people, but it is for only one typical floodlight. With a motion sensing light, the cost would probably be under $1.00, while offering better security because of the surprise factor!
I have also made another interesting observation about lighting fixtures from airplanes. From a view 10000 or so feet above a city, a great many light fixtures are visible which are almost immediately below the aircraft! Why do I need to see a streetlight from 2 or so miles above the light??? This of course represents wasted energy (and poorer skies). There are some lights that are evident only from their "signature" on the ground... these are the "good" lights (ones that put light where it should be). It would help considerably if all streetlights used full cutoff fixtures.
I have observed that some of the worst offenders (in terms of light pollution) are not lights intended for public safety, but those that are for private advertising. Countless billboards in cities have very powerful spotlights aimed at the sign from below... of course, much of the light ends up in the sky. Also, "decorative" lighting adds significantly to light pollution. There is a church in Springfield MA that has some extremely bright spotlights aimed at its steeple... I'd bet that most of that light ends up in the sky. I wonder if the congregation has any idea how much money it is costing them to "pollute the sky?" Based on my personal observations, below is a list of the worst light pollution offenders along the I91 - I291 corridor in Springfield, MA:
In general, I find car dealerships to be among the worst offenders. I'm not sure if they keep the lots so bright to (a) "deter crime", or (b) to make people notice it. Shopping centers are also very bad, due to the sheer number of bright lights. Restaurants also tend to be very bad. Those on lower budgets seem to put up one or two "megawatt" sideways aimed lights, in an attempt to light as much as possible with as few lights as possible.
Unfortunately, man seems to have a relentless desire to turn "night into day". I would like to have a fraction of a percent of the cost of electricity that is wasted on unnecessary or bad lighting. I would never have to work another day and could live in total luxury with a "dream" telescope!.
Perhaps the most annoying lights I see are sideways aimed thousand watt floodlights (often found at restaurant parking lots, car dealerships, etc.). The glare that these lights cause to motorists can be severe and in some cases represents a safety hazard. Unfortunately, there is often nothing that can be done to alter the situation because they are on private property. In my hometown, there are two car dealerships side by side. One has full cutoff lighting in the lot, and the other has "bad" lights. The lot with the "bad" lights is certainly brighter, but the visibility in the lot with full cutoff lights is far better. There is no blinding glare; the cars are visible, not the lights! I bet the dealership with the full cutoff lights has a significantly lower electric bill too.
Many of my co workers know that I am the "resident" astronomer at my place of work. One man came up to me and told me about a motorcycle trip he had taken with some friends. They camped out in a remote part of Pennsylvania, under the stars. He said, "Joe, you should have been there... you wouldn't believe the stars you can see!" I said, "Believe me I know what you saw. Not too long ago, everyone had a view of the sky like that." It is my belief that many people today have no idea of the true beauty of the night sky. I also believe that most people would agree that a dark sky with thousands of stars visible (not 2 dozen or so) is a breathtaking sight. With the population centers we have today, it is probable that many people will grow up and never have the opportunity to see what the night sky really looks like. I can't think of a good word to express what a loss this is...
I try to remain optimistic about curbing light pollution, but I feel that efforts currently in place will at best (unfortunately) only slow the spread. Astronomers represent such a minuscule group of people that it is hard to imagine a decrease in light pollution. Since a large amount of light pollution originates from private sources, it will be extremely difficult to change the situation. With crime the way it is today, coupled with the public notion that "more lights = less crime", it will be nearly impossible to convince people to change the lighting despite the potential long range savings. Most politicians and lawmakers are far more concerned with issues other than saving money on electricity (they want to get re-elected). Plus, some people will fire back "We've got thousands of homeless people starving on the streets and you're worried about some streetlights!?" I would suspect that a politician that enacted a lighting ordinance would have a tough time with many members of the community (advertisers, car dealership owners, insurance companies, etc). If people were questioned on the streets "Do you think we need more lights?", I suspect the answer would be almost unanimously YES! WE NEED AS MANY LIGHTS AS POSSIBLE! I feel the only immediate way to get a truly dark sky is to drive 100 miles or so away from civilization (that's not easy to do in the Northeast US!).
I feel the best time to observe (in the Northeast US anyway) is in early fall. This time of year has the most clear nights. Also, drier, cleaner air tends to flow in, and it's cool enough to eliminate bugs. More importantly, the leaves are still on the trees which help to block and absorb significant amounts of light pollution. Once the leaves are down, I get problems from floodlights on neighboring houses. And, once the snow is on the ground, light pollution can be at its worst due to the much higher amount of reflected light that ends up in the sky. So, cold winter nights may not always be the best for visibility. Cold winter nights when no snow is on the ground are the ones to wish for!
The best time to see just how bad light pollution has become is to look at a big city (from about 10 miles away) just after a fresh snowfall when it is still cloudy. Under such conditions, Hartford CT appears to be the sight of an impending sunrise. The sky takes on a brilliant but very dirty (disgusting looking) pink color.
I grew up in a house that was built around 1822. For much of its existence, the house sat in an environment where (assuming a clear night) the sky was as dark as can be. This house witnessed many of the great comets of history in all their glory. The Milky Way must have been absolutely astounding on clear, dark, winter nights. Look what Messier was able to do with a telescope that would probably have made a "department store" refractor look like a gem! In today's skies, he'd have been luck to have spotted M13. Unfortunately, I believe that the sky will not be as dark as it was then until man ceases to exist on this planet...
Added 11 September 1997
I was recently visiting a friend who lives in downtown Springfield MA. It was a clear night, and we were out walking the dog. While we were walking, I took note of the sky and what was visible. What was visible? Not much. Jupiter of course was brilliant, and like Sky and Telescope says in the October issue, "Jupiter marks the location of Capricornus this month". However, I could not see a single star anywhere near Jupiter; so, the limiting magnitude in that area was about 3! Overhead, I could see the form of the Northern Cross with no trouble, but the Milky Way was not visible at all. I could also see Polaris, and Cassiopeia was also visible. Venus of course was a brilliant beacon, and the waxing crescent Moon was also nice. The sky background took on a disgusting luminescent pink anywhere below about 50 degrees elevation. The visibility directly overhead was about magnitude 4 (barely). Later that evening I returned to Wilbraham (6 or 7 miles from where I was in Springfield), my former "dark sky" site (back in the mid 1970's that is). From there, the Milky Way was visible fairly well, and the overall limiting magnitude directly overhead was about 5.5. It was a "good night" for the area (but a far cry from what it was 20 years ago). My conclusion: The light pollution situation in Springfield, MA is pathetic. And Springfield is considered a "small city" by most standards (about 180,000 people). I don't know how a young person living in or around the city could become interested in astronomy today with such pathetic conditions. You can't see enough stars to identify most constellations! When I was young, part of what got me out of bed in the middle of the night on frigid winter mornings when I had to go to school the next day was the lure of a beautiful, dark, star filled sky! The sight and excitement of the night sky "made me forget" that my hands and feet were near frostbite, and that I was doomed to be tired during school the next morning. Today, that could not happen in any city like Springfield. Who knows how much worse it will get?
Today, Capricornus has departed from the skies of Springfield; solitary Jupiter is the only clue to where it once shined. One day (and all too soon), it may be difficult to find even Jupiter at night...
Added 21 December 1997
I was driving to work and listening the the news on the radio (the exact date escapes me but it was around Thanksgiving). The story had to do with new lights going up in Providence, RI. Apparently, some crime ridden areas of the city will be receiving "replacement and new streetlights" which are "far brighter than the old ones" according to Narragansett Electric. The news reporter emphasized "far bighter" when describing the new lights. This to me just underlines the public belief that more lights = less crime. If the Providence area gets any brighter, there won't be a need to have the Sun come up anymore...
To most people, mention of town Newport brings about thoughts of mansions,
yachts and vacations. To me, Newport brings thoughts of a different nature: a
Full Time Full Moon! Having worked nights in Newport for many months, I have
noticed that the area around Newport, RI is light polluted to the extent where
you can't really see any difference (in the numbers of visible stars) between
Full Moon and New Moon. When I was young, I was always anxious for the Moon to
start waning so I could see more stars (and the Milky Way). In Newport, it
doesn't matter whether the Moon is full, crescent or new. Take your pick! You
can see the same 20 stars no matter what the phase of the Moon! And, the only
Milky Way you'll ever see is in the candy rack. Sadly, Newport is a lousy place
to do astronomy, made worse by the fact it's on an island. There is nowhere you
can escape light pollution on Acquidneck Island. The nearest location (western
Rhode Island) that can be called anything resembling "dark" is about an hour's
drive. The unfortunate fact is that Newport is by no means alone with this
distinction. Most any city big enough to have a McDonald's is light polluted to
the level of "Full time Full Moon".
I think I have found a new candidate for the far and away worst lighting I have ever seen. There is a Ford/Mercury dealer along I-84 in East Hartford (right before you cross the Connecticut River going Westbound). The lights on this lot are ubelievably bad. They are aimed only about 20 degrees below horizontal, and they are EXTREMELY bright. This lot alone probably creates more light pollution than a small town. I have also spotted another light near this location that is very bad. There is a tree groing very close to it. There is a branch that has grown significantly more than other branches on the tree... basically because the leaves on that branch have a "blazing Sun" all night long! The owners of the lot have taken to effort to trim the branch (that's OK with me) even though it's blocking much of the light.
Added 20 January 1998
I remembered something that happened to me a short time ago that is worth mentioning: I was pulled over by the cops because of light pollution! I was in downtown Hartford (CT USA) at about 10pm, coming from the radio station I worked at. I got onto I-91 heading north. After a mile or so I noticed a cruiser following me (I wasn't speeding at all). Finally, the strobes came on signaling me to pull over. The cop came up to my car and asked for the usual license and registration. When I questioned her as to why I was pulled over, she said "You were driving with your lights off". I looked at the instrument panel, and sure enough I was driving with all lights off. Now, why would I be doing that?!? Reason: The lighting levels in Hartford are so excessive that you don't even notice that your headlights are off at night, a problem consistent all over the country from New York to San Diego. Had I been in a properly lit area, I would have certainly noticed that my lights were off! The cop came back and asked if I was drinking (I don't); she said "Driving with no lights is common among intoxicated people and is often a tell tale sign of a DUI". I was tempted to reply "Driving with no lights on is a sign of excessive light pollution!", but I refrained because I didn't want to be a smartass. It kind of makes me wonder if light pollution is something that lawyers hear as an excuse for a DUI? In an area in or around a city like San Diego there must be a lot of that happening. What can be said about all this? Probably that light pollution is not a valid argument for a San Diego DUI lawyer but ANY area in which you can easily drive at night without headlights turned on is by definition "light polluted to excess".
Added 2 February 1998
Today (2 Feb 98) the paper USA Today ran an article that made me think immediately of light pollution. The article (on page 5a) is entitled "Tax Credits Target Energy Efficiency" with subtitle "Global warming concerns are priority in budget proposal". The article basically discusses proposed tax credits for Americans who purchase fuel efficient cars and energy saving products for their homes. The proposals are being made as a result of the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that the USA and 160 other nations wrote in December of 1997 to slow global warming. The article goes on to say "Without any limits, US greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be about 30% higher in 2010 than they were in 1990, administration officials say. Under the Kyoto agreement, the United States must cut its greenhouse gas emissions 7% below 1990 levels by 2010. Such a huge reduction will take more than factories and power plants cutting back emissions. The average American will also have to use less energy. 'Everyone has a responsibility here,' says Federico Pena, US secretary of Energy."
I immediately thought once again of the savings that could be made by utilizing properly designed lighting fixtures (while at the same time reducing the excessive levels of light pollution). This is a clear case of win-win all the way. Proper lighting fixtures use significantly less energy (translation: less greenhouse gases), and sky conditions improve while maintaining the same light level on the ground. I can see no reasonable argument as to why not to go to properly designed lighting fixtures especially considering the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. The US is currently wasting untold millions of kilowatt hours of electricity as a result of bad lighting, which wastes money, creates more greenhouse gases, and ruins the night sky. Critics may say that it's just a drop in the bucket. That may or may not be true, but no one can argue against it being a step in the right direction. Ask yourself this: Do you think it would be wise to open the windows of your home in the dead of winter while you are trying to heat the place on a limited budget? The outdoor lighting situation in America is no different; we are spending far more than we need to due to wasteful designs. The government should offer tax credits to towns and businesses who update outdoor (and indoor) lighting to less wasteful designs!
At about 5:00am (EST) on 6 February, I stepped outside to put the trash out. There was severe icing from the nor'easter that had come through the day before. I nearly fell on my butt several times due to the ice. When I got to the end of the driveway, I looked up and saw an amazing sight... an incredibly good naked eye view of the night sky. Extraordinarily clean and dry air must have come in overnight, because the number of visible stars was far greater than I typically see from this moderately light polluted area. I could still see the effects of light pollution to the southeast (New London, CT), however it was not nearly as bad as normal. I could see the Hercules Cluster (M13) with the naked eye! The stars of Draco were very prominent; Corona Borealis also stood out very well. It was a breathtaking sight. It reminded me of the skies I once had in Wilbraham, MA back in 1975. For a moment I was brought back to that time. The Milky Way was "down", but had it been up it would have been easy and beautiful. I would say that the sky conditions were among the best I have ever seen for Oakdale, CT. There are probably only 2 or 3 nights per year with conditions this good. Being that I had to get ready for work, not to mention that the ice would have made it very difficult to observe, I was not able to do more than look around with the naked eye for a few minutes. The skies I saw reminded me of how good it used to be on a typical night in the 70's.
Added 19 January 2001
I keep hearing about the power crisis in California on the news... I can't help wondering how much power could be saved if there wasn't so much unnecessary lighting in many of California's cities! I suspect the amount of power that could be saved by NOT lighting up the night sky to the point of twilight could significantly reduce this crunch. Will the average citizen care? Probably not...
Added 19 January 2001
I saw an ad on TV (The Learning Channel if I recall) while on business in Syracuse. I don't recall exactly what the ad was for, something to do with RV'ing. The ad showed a father pointing out constellations to his son on a camping trip (the astronomical accuracy of this ad was poor, the guy was pointing to the Big Dipper and Orion in the SAME direction!). Anyway, the son asked something about the stars being out every night, and the father replied "the stars are always out" (or something to that effect). The son then asked "Why don't we ever see them where WE live?" Not too difficult to answer that one!!!
Added 19 January 2001
On 23 December 2000 I drove out to a spot not too far from Colebrook CT, the site of the Connecticut Star Party. To be exact, my location was what I call the "Colebrook Reservoir", a body of water just off of Rt 8 in northwestern CT. This site was my "plan B" for tonight (I had wanted to go to Arunah Hill, however the snow was too deep and the road not cleared). My plan was to do astrophotography of winter objects using a new Vixen ED refractor I had acquired last spring. There is a nice parking lot (looks like it is used for boat launching during the day) that is not closed off at night, so I drove down to this area to set up. I stumbled upon this site about 2 years ago on the way home from a night wedding. I stopped off that night and took in the night sky for about 10 minutes, the view was very nice! A wide open view in most directions with a great south view, and relatively mild light pollution in the directions of Hartford and Springfield. However, when I got to the site on 23 December I was shocked and disgusted. The level of light pollution was very bad. How could this rather nice site be ruined in such a short time?!? Then I realized: the ground was covered with snow. The higher reflection of the white snow means that tons more light was ending up in the sky. At least I *hope* this is what the cause was... otherwise this site can be considered "gone" for serious astronomy work. I'd estimate the limiting magnitude was in the mid 4 range in the worst direction, and about 5.4 or so in the "good" directions. In any event, the entire eastern and sky was a disaster. You could make out the major constellations, but the stars of Monoceros were visible only upon study of the area. This whole situation really disgusted me. I drove 2 hours to get out to what is normally a decent site (note decent, not truly dark) and what I found was a site that wasn't much better than my backyard! How much further will I be forced to drive in the future to get anything resembling a dark sky?
Added 19 January 2001
I travel often and I can't help but notice how absolutely overlit most car dealerships are. I believe they are among the worst offenders when it comes to light polltuion. As mentioned in previous entries, I do not know if they are doing this to "prevent crime" or to make people notice the place. If it is the latter, do they really think this is going to make me say "Gee, look at all the cars! I think I'll stop in and buy one!" I can assure them this: the answer for me is absolutely NO. I know where the car dealerships are, I do not need to be constantly reminded by seeing a dazzlingly bright lot. When I need a car I will buy one, not before. In fact, I think the next time I have to buy a car, I am going to make my best deal and then I'm going to demand another $100 off the price or the deal will be OFF. If they ask why, I'll say that I will not be a contributor to paying for the large electric bill resulting from absurd lighting levels. Let the owner pay it. I've been inside one car dealership's owner's house, believe me these people are not hurting for cash...
Added 19 January 2001
As mentioned several places in my entries, I travel often. I frequently drive from Springfield MA to Syracuse NY by way of Rt 90 (Mass Pike / New York Thruway). There are some very nice dark sky sites along the way (I know because I sometimes make this drive at night). Recently, I was driving up to Syracuse at night, and it was totally cloudy. There is a dark sky area in the area near the toll booth going into NY state. However, on this cloudy night I could see a huge glow in the distance. As I got closer, I was appalled to learn that this massive illuminated area of the sky was caused by one single billboard with upward pointing lights! It was truly unbelievable to see how this one single billboard could ruin a sky for a radius of several miles! And this is just ONE of these billboards. In a typical city there are thousands of such billboards. Very few I have seen use the downward pointing lights. This particular billboard (in NY) was advertising Howe Caverns, a tourist attraction not too far from the area. If I lived in an area like this, I would be livid if such a sign went up and ruined an otherwise quite good sky...
Added 26 March 2001
To most people, "rolling blackouts" would be one of the last things that one would actively wish for. However, I would love to have some rolling blackouts come to Connecticut so long as they occur at night. Why? Because for once I would have a reasonably dark sky to observe! In most places, the sky has become so lit up that people don't even know that stars exist. The sad part about this is that it does not have to be this way. Think of how powerful a bulb you would have to have to light up the sky if that was its sole purpose. Well, that amount of energy is wasted routinely by most cities in America! Worse, a lot of that wasted energy is at the cost of the taxpayer and the consumer. Who do you think pays for the electricity that a car dealership uses (to light up the place to dazzling proportions when it is not even open for business)? Rolling blackouts are sure to anger a lot of people, but maybe they will help raise the issue that there is not a limitless supply of energy (as many Americans seem to think). If we could cut the huge amount of light that ends up in the sky (where it does nothing to help illumination on the ground) the amount of energy saved might be adequate to offset these rolling blackouts.
Added 16 Nov 2002
I was recently in Boston MA for a week for business travel. The amount of light pollution in Boston is absolutely unbelievable! Once it got dark (note: dark being defined as the time when the Sun was well below the horizon) it in fact was not dark at all. Boston must have no need for flashlights! You would never need one to see where you were going at night. The only astronomy anyone could really hope to do in the greater Boston area is lunar and planetary astronomy. I know the sky well... it took me about a minute or so (on a clear night) to locate the constellation Cassiopeia! And even then, the famous "W" shape was muted because one star on the end was visible only with difficulty. In my opinion, Boston is past hope for light pollution reduction. The only time Boston will be truly dark is when there is a massive power outage (of most or all of eastern MA). A sad situation.
Added 16 November 2007
The advertising company named LAMAR is possibly one of the worst offenders when it comes to light pollution. LAMAR is the company that owns (or leases, I am not sure) the countless billboards that you see along major highways. The vast majority of these structures are lit by upward facing lights. Many of them have 8 and some have 10 powerful floodlights aimed upwards at the billboard. As much as a third of this light misses the billboard altogether (the light goes directly into the sky) and much of the remaining light gets reflected off the billboard and into the sky. I was driving along I-8 in California between Yuma and San Diego and there are places along the road where there is a virtual forest of these billboards. The combined light from them is equivalent to a small city, the sky in the area was quite poor. Personally I find billboards to be little more than eyesores, but the added impact of the damage to the night sky is very frustrating. Thank God that certain places (Vermont is one such place) have banned billboards (at least along interstates). They look like eye trash, they ruin the view of otherwise pristine countryside and they look like hell at night. Unfortunately, they won't go away and I seriously doubt that LAMAR will modify the signs to use downward pointing directional lights. (they do not care about astronomy). If I were a wealthy person, I'd lease one of these billboards. It would say "Light Pollution from these eyesore billboards sucks!"
Added 16 November 2007
I recently had the opportunity to go to a star party in the western end of Joshua Tree State Park (this is a desert area of approximately 900,000 acres to the east of Palm Springs in California). I was up there during the day and the sky was clear and blue, I was anticipating a great night of dark sky viewing. I only had binoculars with me but I was hoping to get a great view of Comet Holmes. However, once it got dark I was pretty disappointed. A good part of the sky was indeed fairly dark (but not spectacularly so). What shocked me was that the view from about Aquila and south was no better than what I have at home in southeastern CT! The Milky Way was visible but in the Scutum area it was not very pronounced at all. The glow to the southwest was quite severe, to the point where I might as well have stayed back home. I expect that the eastern end of the park would be better, however I also expected that the sky would have been quite a bit better than what I saw! I can say this: the skies I had in western MA (near Springfield) in 1975 were BETTER by a significant margin that what I experienced on the western end of Joshue Tree State Park. A very sad situation. I drove back to San Diego later that evening. The entire corridor around Rt 15 (on the way back to San Diego) is pretty much a disaster as far as light pollution is concerned. I was talking to someone who was at the star party... he stated that he was at Death Valley and that the viewing was fantastic. However, he also noted that there was a "dome of glow" in the direction of Las Vegas!
The information below was provided by Cliff Haas. Cliff has assembled what is possibly the most comprehensive list of light polltuion links that exists today!
Light Pollution Links by Cliff Haas
One more major Light Pollution resource: International Dark-Sky Association