September 2023: Sensory Deprivation, Light Pollution News.
Frank Turina, an astrophotographer, night sky advocate, and environmental educator with more than 15 years of working with the United States National Park Service Night Skies Program. You can learn more about his examinations of the ecological and cultural effects of light pollution from his website, at Darkskyastrophoto.com
Ken Walczak, Senior Manager of the Far Horizons program at the Adler Planetarium, Co-Author of numerous papers on design and use of innovating instrumentation for light pollution research, and co-lead in the successful designation of the world’s largest Urban Night Sky Place, the Palos Preserves. Walczak is also a board member with Dark Sky International.
- With inspiration from Indianapolis, Destination Cleveland plans major downtown lighting installation, Susan Glaser, The Plain Dealer Cleveland.
- Destination Cleveland wants to light up the downtown; should the project include the Flats? Editorial Board Roundtable, Cleveland.com
- LED billboards could buy their way to Miami streets via campaign donations, Ladra, Political Cortadito.
- 150% increase in light pollution in three years may lead to loss of dark sky status for park, Catherine Hubbard, Stuff.co
- City of London Corporation Adopts New Net-Zero Light Pollution Guidance, Ella Tansley, This Week in FM.
- Light and noise pollution ‘are neglected health hazards’, say peers, Linda Geddes, The Guardian.
- Why Tory MP is saving a mysterious species of glowing worm, Adam Baker, Eastern Daily Press.
- Environmental organization files 106 page report over light pollution on Palm Beach, threatens lawsuit, Caleb Califano, WPBF.
- Powys stargazers hit as £3,000 of telescopes stolen from observatory, Matt Jones, POWS Country Times.
- Starlink leaking unintended radiation, Hannah Getahun, Business Insider.
- Giant glowing ‘X’ sign atop Twitter office in San Francisco removed, The Guardian.
- On Some of Texas’ Tallest Peaks, Star Parties Attract Visitors From All Over the Planet, Alan Cundy, Alcalde.
- West Texas Oil Country Is Revealing a Sky Full of Stars, Sam Karas, Reasons to be Cheerful.
- Sphere lights up Las Vegas skyline with massive LED display, ABC News.
- Artificial Light at Night: state of the science 2023 report released, John Barentine, Dark Sky Int’l.
- London Lit, Sense Turner.
- Is Stargazing Better As a Social Activity?, Tobias Carroll, Inside Hook.
- For amateur astronomers, ‘star parties’ are the antidote to light-polluted skies, Scott Newman, NPR.
- Mount Rainer National Park Facebook Post 8/15/23, 17:57.
- Perseids viewers inundated Joshua Tree National Park, left trash, set illegal campfires, Ema Sask, USA Today.
- The Best No-Crowd Places to Go Stargazing, Emma Veidt, Backpacker.
- Whole Goods Revolutionizes the US Market with Ultra-Bright Solar Lights for Outdoor.
- LED lights are meant to save energy. They’re creating glaring problems, Kasha Patel, Kati Perry, Daniel Wolfe, and Emily Sabens, Washington Post.
- Changes in night sky brightness after a countywide LED retrofit, Journal of Environmental Management.
- Philly starts replacing its street lights with more efficient LEDs, Sophia Schmidt, WHYY.
- Philly street Lighting resource page
- Could new street lights save our biodiversity?, Financial Times.
- Artificial Light at Night (ALAN) causes size-dependent effects on intertidal fish decision-making, Marine Pollution Bulletin.
- The effects of artificial light at night on the foraging activity of Japanese eels: implications of recreational fishing data, Environmental Biology of Fishes.
- Smaller Australian raptors have greater urban tolerance, Scientific Reports.
- From colony to fallout: Artificial lights pose risk to seabird fledglings far from their natal colonies, Conservation Science and Practice.
- Skyglow relieves a crepuscular bird from visual constraints on being active, Science of the Total Environment.
- Artificial light at night impairs inhibitory control in a wild songbird, Science of the Total Environment.
- On the Rich and Radical History of Nightwalking, Bianca Giaever, LitHub.
Let’s get to it tonight! I want to start with our policy segment as there’s a lot to discuss! Beginning with this article from Plain Dealer Cleveland, “With inspiration from Indianapolis, Destination Cleveland plans major downtown lighting installation,” as reported by Susan Glaser.
Things are about to get brighter in Cleveland, and that’s not a euphemism. Utilizing projection tools, Cleveland, Ohio intends to mimic the successes of Indianapolis’s nighttime engagement. The city of Indianapolis leaned on grants and community businesses to provide creativity and accessibility to create nightly light shows that spanned as high as the 284’ tall Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in the city’s Monument Circle.
Indianapolis utilized six high lumen projectors that use a technique called projection mapping. Projection mapping turns flat surfaces, building facades, into three dimensional surfaces, such as similar experiences you may see at Disney World.
Destination Cleveland doesn’t appear to have the deep pockets needed to pull off another Indianapolis. Instead, they plan to simply wash buildings and areas in colored light utilizing spotlights and projectors (think something you see on a house at Christmas time, just larger scale, and, of course, brighter).
Destination Cleveland appears to have heard it from local groups including birders and downtown residents, whereby the organization hopes to assuage any concerns regarding unintended effects of a 24×7 lit environment. Of course, safety plays into this, but to their credit, Destination Cleveland and Ms. Glaser did not attempt to utilize fear as a tactic when making the case for light.
And this plan appears to have near universal thumbs up from the media. Cleveland.com recently polled their editorial board of whom all but one jubilantly supported the measure. The sole hold out, Lisa Garvin, who cited the effects of light pollution and referenced lingering crime issues as a potential setback for the plan. One person, Tom Bier, even proposed expanding the lighting to include Cleveland’s already popular, Flats area.
Curious about where else Destination Cleveland garnered their inspiration? Well look no further than Brussels and Montreal.
Expect to see the new lighting make its debut during April’s NCAA Women’s Final Four.
Well, I swear that I’m not trying to beat us up right off the bat, but we have this one that’s been two years in the making, which is quite astounding in its own right.
Miami, not one to be known for its conservation of any kind, looks to be postponing but quietly okaying 45 “giant” new LED billboards downtown and in public lands like parks, despite a wall of resistance from local residents and activists who fought hard to prevent the deterioration of their city.
Citing fiscal reasons, Miami hopes that massive LED billboards can bring much needed funds into government. However, just two weeks ago, an article came out in Political Cortadito, whereby LED billboard companies spent upward of $300k in campaign donations to Miami council representatives.
Media and op ed pieces appear consistently against the politicians in this one.
And before I open this up for conversation, I have this article from New Zealand. New Zealand’s first dark sky park at Wai-iti is in serious danger of losing its designation, and much of that is due to recent subdivision and industrial growth. The continued use of 4000K LEDs in street lighting are cited as a major cause.
In the five years it took proponents to conserve the area, it appears that the community may have reneged on its promise to implement the Tasman Environmental Plan as it pertains to light retrofits.
Wai-iti Recreational Reserve gained its designation in July of 2020.
Well we can talk about this, some interesting news out of the UK whereby the City of London has adopted a new Net Zero Light Pollution requirement. Developers in a section of the city known as the “Square Mile” now must submit detailed plans on how to minimize light pollution when applying for changes. The requirement apparently passed with unanimous support in the Planning and Transport Committee of London. Explicit in its justification was the issue of light pollution, further supported by energy use and ecological determinants. [Note, City of London is not London city proper].
The provision makes exceptions for security, inclusion, and accessibility lighting.
Staying in the UK, the House of Lords has tasked the Science and Technology Committee to tackle “poorly understood and poorly regulated” noise and light pollutants. The Guardian article implicates “130,000 healthy years of life lost to noise pollution in the UK with 40% of Britons exposed to unhealthy levels of road traffic noise.”
In addition, it’s mentioned that “both noise and light pollution can contribute to heart disease and premature death.” The latter backed up by a Northwestern University Fineberg School of Medicine study.
And heck, why not cover this while we’re here, there’s even a Tory MP who is aiming to breath life back into glowworms. “We need to protect our dark sky areas,” Mr. Baker said. Baker appears to be working with the organization Buglife to promote, not just dark skies, but reduced use of pesticides and habitat restoration.
Staying on the policy topic for just one more second, I saw this article from WPBF News, “Environmental organization files 106 page report over light pollution on Palm Beach, threatens lawsuit.” The complaint cites local homes and residential buildings for violating ordinances designed to protect sea turtle hatchlings, including nighttime lighting violations, poor nest markings, and evidence of vehicles on the beach.
The organization is giving Palm Beach two months before they decide to file a lawsuit against the county. Per the article, “Palm Beach County’s environmental resources management” believes around “2 million sea turtles” hatch in Palm Beach County. “Making it number one in the US for sea turtle nests per mile.”
Apparently the “Breakers,” a building cited in the complaint, drew passionate words from Bear Warriors United, the conservation group filing suit.
“You can see their light from nighttime from a mile away. It was lit up like the NASA launch pad. Their lighting you can see from out space I’m pretty sure.”
Well then, if you have the chance to go to the ISS, please keep a look out and let us know!
We do have one crime story to report, this might be our first! There’s been a theft!
About £3,000, that’s almost $4,000 USD, in equipment, including observing equipment such as binoculars and eye pieces that are used in outreach, all were taken between July 21st through July 28th of this year from an observatory building in Wales.
The building, which houses outreach materials, is apparently quite remote and even inaccessible to the public. The loss has forced public events in the International Dark Sky Park of the Elan Valley to be tailored down for the duration of the summer.
For those curious, in addition to televue eye pieces and some solar binoculars, the thieves got away with a Sky-Watcher Evostar 120mm telescope, an EQ3 mount, and, I would have really loved to see video of this, a Sky-Watcher Skyliner 250PX Dobsonian. That’s a 10” telescope for those of you at home! That’s a big boy!
Sticking with astronomy, ever notice any green trails following those Starlink photobombs?
Well, I kid! But apparently, Elon’s pride and joy when he’s not installing giant blinding ‘X’s atop buildings, are leaking radiation!
This comes to us from Business Insider. Starlink satellites are leaking radiation into the protected 150.05 – 153 MHz band. One astronomer compared the impact to a regular band of static on the radio occurring exactly every five minutes. Such interference impacts the study of dark matter, the study of star formation, not to mention essentially bricks the millions of dollar telescope radio system built over the past decades.
Staying on the topic of education, dark skies convert into big time recruiting tools for future researchers.
The Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve sits as the largest certified dark sky place in the world at 15,000 Square Miles. Anchored by the McDonald Observatory, which sports the
- 10 meter Hobby Eberly Telescope – the third largest optical telescope in the world
- the 82” Otto Struve Telescope,
- and the 107” Harlan J Smith Telescope
The University of Texas has been able to successfully identify black holes, new planets, star collisions, and more.
However, that’s only part of the story. The other part is the leg work of Stephen Hummel and Bill Wren. Over the course of more than a decade, these two worked closely with intermediary organizations including Texan by Nature, an organization founded by former First Lady, Laura Bush, and the Texas Railroad Commission.
Hummel and Wren were able to obtain buy-in for installing responsible lighting fixtures from one of the largest oil and gas producing centers in the world!
One such facility run by Callon Petroleum cited improved visibility following a dark sky friendly lighting overhaul.
“In the past, our approach has been to get a whole bunch of lights and blast things up, but that leaves a lot of shadows, “ says Chris Gafford, safety manager at Callon Petroleum.
“You get the right kind of lights, and space them out in the right way, and it’s actually better lit up – fewer dark spots, you don’t have guys tripping over stuff.”
Another company, Howard Energy Partners, also reported improved safety after converting over to more responsible, deliberate lighting.
You’ve heard me report on this in the past, and I’m quite sure that everyone listening to this is aware of MSG, the same company that allegedly used its facial recognition software as a weapon against opposing attorneys. Well MSG is in the news again – this time they lit up their new, mega LED sphere in Las Vegas.
In case you didn’t see it, you can check the snow notes to watch the 4th of July celebration.
And what’s there to say about it – it definitely delivered. While watching, you’ll notice the significant and bright reflection it casts against nearby buildings.
[I don’t know what to think on this one. In one aspect, the sphere definitely has a cool factor. It’s something novel and unique, and embraces commercialism with a, wait for it, gravity like no other. On the other hand, I’m not sure the term “light pollution” is sufficient to describe the level of light it wrought on the night – or whatever was left of it in Vegas.
Well as if right on cue, John Barentine and Ruskin Hartley released Dark Sky International’s state of the science 2023 report. The report notes a considerable rise in research focusing on Artificial Light at Night, from just above over 500 articles way back in 2002 to close to 4,000 articles last year alone! I was lucky enough to virtually attend the 2023 Artificial Light at Night conference this year and was able to see many of these papers first hand.
For those of you at home who are interested in reading the state of the science report, you can find a link to it in our show notes, as well.
Have you guys seen this? It’s an amazing poetic reading by Sense Turner. To quote the Youtube description, “London Lit is a poetic exploration of the nocturnal city and a requiem for the diminishing urban darkness.”
Before we dive into our numerous articles on Astro-tourism this month, I have this piece from Inside Hook, written by Tobias Carroll, “Is Stargazing Better as a Social Activity?” Hook notes a recent NPR Article that detailed the Cherry Springs Star Party – a party that apparently had an overflow waiting list of 400 people, that’s 150 shy of the total initial allotment of spaces.
For those of you at home whom have never been to a star party, I recently was interviewed on the Space Tourist podcast whereby I helped describe the scene. Star Parties are events where amateur astronomers and astrophotographers spend a weekend together in a field geeking out of the night sky, galaxies and nebulas, and gear. It’s fun for the whole family.
A couple of months ago, we had Scott Morgan, the assistant manager of the park area overseeing Cherry Springs, and I got the sense that public viewing nights have provided some challenges for the park service. Among the most obvious, a dark sky park is essentially a 24 hour facility. Making staffing arrangements tricky, as it does on how to properly provide a safe experience for guests.
Which I found interesting, considering this National Park Service Facebook post that occurred only a few days after the Persieds weekend at Mt Rainier National Park.
As was evident, the park experienced the following issues including trampling of fragile subalpine meadows, parking in prohibited street sides, rogue camping (also known as camping in areas that are not permitted), and, of course, trash.
Almost an echo of that same story can be found at Joshua Tree, where our mighty Los Angeles denizens somehow one upped the Seattle folks by simply forging their own roads through the park lands.
Continuing along that line of thought, we have this article from Backpacker, by Emma Veidt, “The Best No-Crowd Places to Go Stargazing.”
Emma starts off her piece with this:
“Last fall, I went stargazing in Joshua Tree and spent most of the night listening to crowds hoot and holler from their campsites nearby. Sometimes you just want to count shooting stars without hearing an EDM beat pumping from someone’s tiny bluetooth speaker off in the distance.”
Now let’s see if you, Frank, agree. Veidt lists the following locations:
- Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah
- Big Bend National Park in Texas
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico
- The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve in Idaho
- Katahdin Woods and Wates National Monument in Maine
- And Newport State Park in Wisconsin.
I can say I’ve only been to one of those on the list – Katahdin, when I hiked the 100 Mile Wilderness. And it was everything you wanted in a Maine night sky.
Let’s start with technology. I’ll be honest, I’m hearing echoes of the LED revolution in some of these news articles – namely claims from a decade ago that spoke of LEDs as an economical middle ground between environmentally beneficial lighting, cost, and reduced light pollution – absolutely none of which seem to be true.
For instance, take the Whole Goods Ultra Bright Solar light that “aims to enhance outdoor spaces while promoting environmental consciousness” by utilizing 432 LEDs to provide 2500 lumens, presumably to ensure deer don’t invade your garden. To relate, 2,500 lumens is at the extreme high end of the brightness scale – in WATTS terms, that’s comparable to over 250 WATTS!!
I’m not sure how lights like these aren’t classified as “nuisance lights” as I don’t see a utilitarian purpose outside of trying to irritate your neighbor and weaponize lighting.
Bonus points to Whole Goods, they have the audacity to show an artist rendering of these lights being utilized with star lit dusk sky in the background – or maybe – HA – that’s the color the night sky’s supposed to be when using them?
The Washington Post had an interesting article that started out by visually illustrating the effects of irresponsible lighting on Chelan County, Washington between 2018 and 2019.
Chelan County, Washington, which sits on the eastern side of the Cascades, began the $1.9M conversion to LED street lights in 2018. The retrofit included 3,693 high pressure sodium lights to a mix of 3000K and 4000K light fixtures, with the latter a requirement by the WA State Dept of Transit guidelines.
On the positive side, the conversation saw real energy savings gains, to what the article cites as “enough to power about 120 all-electric homes in the county for a year.”
On the negative side, whereas the high pressure sodium light fixtures previously emitted 2.3x the natural light level, they increased to 3.69 times the natural light level. The skies actually got brighter – taking everyone by surprise!
What ended up happening in Chelan County is probably what we see happening wherever LED street light conversations are taking place. When utilizing a 4000K bulb, approximately 29% of the light emitted is blue. That blue light, due to its shorter wavelength, quickly scattered and impacted the horizon. (And for those of you curious about the % for 3000K lights, it’s around 21%).
Here in Philly, the city just announced the full replacement of all street lights with 3000K fixtures over the next two years, which of course Carlton Williams, the Department of Streets commissioner, justified by the blanketly unsupported statements touting how these lights will naturally prevent violent crimes – anyone care to place bets on how well that turns out?
The city here plans to utilize diffused optics, which the claim is that this will reduce the visual brightness of the LED source. I went back to one of our guests from last month, Bill Green, for more details to understand how diffused optics work. Apparently diffused optics are a powder coating that obscures the LED bulbs. However, due to the nature of these diffused fixtures, more light may just end up going upward, not downward.
To its credit, the city does claim that these are “dark sky compliant” fixtures.
As a back story, the most recent acorn fixture conversions, the glassy fixtures that either dangle from or sit atop single poles, appear to have by design been overtly bright – which in a similar manner may have the effect of diffused optical coating.
Sticking close to the street light theme, the Financial Times put out this video, “Could new street lights save our biodiversity?” Whereby the article stresses that LEDs themselves aren’t the problem, rather the introduction of blue wavelengths into the night is, effectively blinding insects like pollinating moths.
New street lighting tests are on their way in Germany on specially designed street lamps that apparently have dramatically decreased, what they coin, “the vacuum cleaner effect” of trapping insects in the light field. Wouldn’t that be something!?
On the ecology front, we continue to see a strong amount of research come through. There’s no doubt that ALAN affects behavior. Let’s go through them, shall we?
- We have one from the Marine Pollution Bulletin that looked at the decision making abilities of rock fish under artificial light at night. The results indicate that fish exposed to ALAN appeared to avoid the safer dark areas when presented with them, raising habitat risk.
- A preliminary study in the Environmental Biology of Fishes seems to indicate that ALAN changes foraging behaviors of the Japanese eels. Researchers set up traps to catch the eels, noticing in a control void of artificial light that eel catches peeked at sunset. However, in the study area which utilized artificial light exposure, eel catch time was significantly delayed, up to 120 minutes past sunset.
- From Scientific Reports, utilizing ALAN as a corollary for urbanization, it’s found that of 24 Australian Raptor species looked at, 13 of them showed particular tolerance (positive responses) to urban environments, conversely 11 showed avoidance to them, indicating that some species are more adaptive to urban settings than others.
- From the Science of the Total Environment, a study looking at dusk flying European Nightjars noticed that ALAN extended their nocturnal flight activity over that of a control group lacking ALAN. The reason cited appears to initially be stemming from improved visibility from skyglow. More interestingly, the bright clouds from light pollution further increase activity, versus the dark clouds of non-lit skies.
We finish up tonight’s show with a brilliant write up from LitHub entitled “On the rich and Radical History of Nightwalking.” Few pieces of work effectively convey what I might call the spirituality of night. Bianca Giaever’s work does just that.
Referencing cultural experiences throughout history – for instance during Medieval Europe, people used the time between sleeps to read, pray and sometimes for traveling at night. And who knows, basked in a world of Christian mysticism, the very real prospect of encountering God or Satan might await you on your trip.
During the enlightenment, embracing the dark of night liberated one from the rigid rational world.
Giaever goes on to mention that Dickens himself walked upwards of 25 miles on some nights.
For Black Americans, both pre and post-civil war, walking at night proved challenging due to curfews put in place by slave owning Southerners and Jim Crow minded communities. However, Giaever references a story of how Frederick Douglas’ mother would walk from sun up to sun down to visit Frederick who resided on a different plantation.
And I think I’d like to finish up today’s show on this quote from the writer Junichiro Tanazaki from 1933,
“If light is scarce then light is scarce.
But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot.
From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light – his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.”