Shout It From the Rooftops

April 5, 1999

From the AAAP listserver. Sent by: Pete Zapadka

Happy Easter to everyone!

We're starting off this day on a very positive note. Below you will find copies of three stories (a main story and two "sidebars") on light pollution and the AAAP's LP Zone. The stories appear in today's North Hills News Record (were they also picked up by its sister paper, the Valley News Dispatch?).

Thanks to all of you who are helping to get the word out! Now it's time to respond with some letters to the editor of the paper. We need to reassert our message that light pollution is not only a problem for astronomers, but for everyone.

Here are the stories:

Astronomers asking communities to dim lights

By Mary Ann Thomas NORTH HILLS NEWS RECORD Star light. Star bright. The Amateur Astronomers Association wants 20 communities in the area to turn down the light. Officials at the Wagman Observatory in Frazer Township are asking local governments nearby to modify their laws to reduce light pollution from future development projects. The Wagman astronomers are pushing the more light pollution issue now because the new kilowatt potential of three major developments in their neighborhood threaten the future of stargazing. They are the proposed Frazer mall, the Frazer interchange on Route 28 and the development of Rock Airport in West Deer as a tax-free zone expected to attract a lot of new businesses. "We want to allow our children and grandchildren to see the stars like their ancestors did," said Eric Fischer, 48, a Hampton resident and associate director of the Wagman Observatory. The Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh, with its two industrial-strength telescopes, owns the observatory in Deer Lakes Park. The northeastern corner of Allegheny County is the only place left in the county where the night sky still is dark enough for high-quality stargazing, local astronomers say. The Amateur Astronomers Association could locate its observatory in the middle of nowhere, but public access plays a big part of its mission, members say. The Wagman is the only observatory in Pittsburgh offering extensive star parties free to the public. More than 16,000 adults and children attended Wagman events in the past three years, according to association officials. Public star parties are scheduled for the evenings of April 23 and April 24, weather permitting. "We want to keep a public observatory in a reasonable driving distance of Pittsburgh and keep the night sky," Fischer said. The astronomers want to see future parking lots, roads, residential plans and other developments outfitted with outdoor lights pointing downward instead of upward. "This type of pollution control is harmless," Fischer said. Bob Mickey, the chairman of the local astronomers' light pollution committee, said the group is looking for effective, responsible lighting practices." An example of bad lighting would be the multitude of billboards lit from the bottom. The excess light spills into the night sky causing a glow or a glare, which clouds the clarity of the Milky Way. Sensible lighting, local astronomers say, can be found in UPMC St. Margaret's parking lot. High-pressure sodium lighting is used, which casts an amber light that is easy on the eyes, according to David Baker, director of facility services at the hospital. The lighting also is economical, he said. Local astronomers are optimistic that local communities will work with them. Aside from sending letters to 20 municipal governments near the Wagman, the astronomers staged a presentation at a recent Frazer meeting calling for responsible lighting at Frazer developments. And West Deer officials are showing interest, according to Fischer. Indiana Township already has a lighting ordinance on the books requiring developers to use lighting that cuts down on light pollution. "The township requires anti-glare devices, which lessens the impact of lights on neighbors and focuses light where it should be," Dan Slagle, township engineer, said. Efficient, environment-friendly lighting will be used at the two new rugby fields in the township on Cove Run Road. "We looked at their system to make sure light wouldn't impact nearby residents," Slagle said. * * * * * * * * * *

Some light on the subject

The Amateur Astronomers Association is asking 20 communities in the area to consider ordinances for controlled lighting for developments: Cheswick, East Deer, Frazer, Harmar, Harrison, Indiana Township, Plum, Springdale, Springdale Township, Tarentum and West Deer in Allegheny County; Buffalo and Clinton in Butler County; Allegheny Township, Lower Burrell, New Kensington and Upper Burrell in Westmoreland County. The Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh has scheduled free public star parties after sunset on April 23 and April 24, weather permitting. The featured attractions during those evenings will include the planet Mars, the Great Nebula of Orion and the Beehive Cluster. For directions to the Wagman Observatory or to check weather conditions, call the observatory at (724) 224-2510. * * * * * * * * * *

Light pollution is newest environmental concern

By Mary Ann Thomas NORTH HILLS NEWS RECORD Light pollution is the latest issue in a string of environmental problems. Astronomers say that, unlike water and air pollution, light pollution can be cleared up without costly changes and painful government restrictions. And people besides astronomers should be interested in the light issue because bad lighting causes glare for people who are outdoors or driving, said Bob Mickey, chairman of the Light Pollution Committee of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh. Stargazers from across the country are asking everyone from developers of malls to road engineers to homeowners to use outdoor lights that point downward. If light escapes from the top and sides of a fixture, it spills into the night sky and washes out the visibility of stars. Texas, Michigan, Massachusetts and Wyoming are debating statewide crackdowns on outdoor lights that cast their beams up. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has no congressional mandate to monitor light pollution, but it does encourage cities and industries to adopt more efficient lighting. Astronomers are not looking to turn off the lights but to control where they shine. Far from being dim bulbs, astronomers tout the economic benefits of controlled, downward-pointing lights. The International Dark Sky Association estimates more than $2 billion dollars per year is wasted in energy and resources.