I’m always looking up…at least at night.
Ever since I was a young lad, I’ve always had a fascination with the night sky. I remember crawling out of bed in the middle of the night, grabbing my trusty Tasco telescope (the cheap kind you find in toy stores), and heading out to the back yard just to see a constellation or a particular star that I hadn’t seen before.
As an adult, I have a much larger (and more expensive) telescope and still enjoy staying up late, or waking up very early, to see something in the night sky I haven’t seen before, or just look at something I’ve seen a million times and still find beautiful and fascinating. This has been quite a challenge over the last 28 years living in the Denver metropolitan area. If you live in a city like Denver, you know that the night sky is pretty washed-out by the mass of lights emitting from the city. Only the brightest stars and planets can cut through the light pollution. Using a telescope can be an additional challenge as the scope can magnify the pollution so much that faint objects get washed-out in the eyepiece. In my particular case, it didn’t help that I had a next-door neighbor who felt he had to light up his backyard to almost daylight levels. My only option for getting a decent view of the night sky was to travel a long distance away from the city.
Just last month, my wife and I moved from our long-time home in the Denver area to the mountain hamlet of Carbondale, Colorado. In keeping with its reputation as a progressive, if somewhat quirky community, the town of Carbondale enacted a rather strict lighting ordinance that requires exterior lighting to be directed downward and not to the side and up, which is the primary cause of light pollution. I learned first-hand how strict this ordinance is: during the process of building our new home, we submitted requests to use several different light fixtures and all were turned down by the city building department. It was becoming quite a challenge to find a fixture that would meet Carbondale’s strict lighting code, but would still look good on our house.
I finally came across a “Dark Sky” light bulb that is nothing more than a standard CFL bulb sheathed in a conical housing that directs the light downward. So, we installed these bulbs in what would otherwise be a non-compliant fixture and bingo: approved light fixture. The Carbondale city inspector was actually excited about my discovery of these bulbs as other homeowners and businesses were also having trouble finding compliant exterior light fixtures.
The light bulb I found is made by a company called Bulbrite. I bought a package of six bulbs for $50. Kind of pricey, but being CFL’s, they should last several years and it meant saving money on an expensive light fixture that met Carbondale’s strong dark sky requirements.
The fixtures in our Denver home were not even close to being dark sky compliant as you can see in the photo below:
Here is our new home in Carbondale with the Dark Sky bulbs installed in the exterior light fixtures. As you can see, the Dark Sky light bulbs pretty much illuminate the same surface area without blasting light out to the sides and upward:
The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) gives the best reasoning for dealing with the scourge of light pollution:
“Once a source of wonder–and one half of the entire planet’s natural environment—the star-filled nights of just a few years ago are vanishing in a yellow haze. Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.”
The economic advantages alone should convince most people of the importance of keeping the night skies dark. If you’re limiting your lighting downward, your wattage requirements can be significantly reduced over a light that shines all over the place. I can definitely attest to the economic reality of directed lighting: We had 100 watt bulbs in the Denver home fixtures; the Dark Sky bulb has a power use of only 15 watts and covers the same surface area.
Carbondale’s lighting ordinance can be a pain, but I was happy to comply. It’s been so many years since I’ve been able to look at a truly dark night sky from my own backyard, and I support the town’s efforts keep their skies dark for future generations. I’m delighted to live in a community that shares my desire to see a night sky full of stars instead of a yellow muck.
To find out more about the harmful effects of light pollution and community efforts to darken the night skies, check out the IDA website at www.darksky.org.
Keep looking up!