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The Webfooted Astronomer - June 2000


Trip Report: IDA Annual Meeting

By Bruce Weertman

I Recently attended the International Dark Sky Association's (IDA) annual meeting from April 27 to May 30 in Tucson, Arizona. The IDA's purpose is to promote dark skies, a beautiful night, and quality outdoor lighting everywhere.

On Thursday, I was hoping to go to the IDA board meeting to witness the approval of the SAS-sponsored Dark Skies Northwest (DSNW) section of the IDA, but because of a flight delay I was unable to attend. On Thursday evening about 20 attendees, including myself, drove out to the Vega-Bray Observatory Skywatcher's Inn, located 47 miles east of Tucson. We had dinner and stayed up late to do some observing. There I met Elizabeth Alvarez, IDA associate director, who the SAS had talked with earlier in regards to starting DSNW. She told me that we had been approved by the board. We also discussed the purpose of DSNW.

Dark Skies Northwest should serve two purposes:

- Fight light pollution in the greater Puget Sound area.
- Serve as an umbrella organization—a gathering place for others fighting light pollution in the Northwest states.

Although the skies were not perfectly clear, I did get some great views in at the observatory, including a look at the beautiful globular cluster Omega Centauri through a 16-inch Newtonian and the Eskimo Planetary Nebula through a 20-inch Maksutov. Although the seeing wasn't great, I could see a lot of detail in the Eskimo Nebula. That Maksutov is a really impressive instrument. For more information about Vega-Bray see

On Friday I attended workshops all day. I learned that the IDA has just completed the "Lighting Model Handbook version 1.0," a cookbook for writing effective outdoor lighting codes. It will be on the IDA Web site soon. Here are some highlights from the handbook:

- There are lighting codes in hundreds of communities.
- There is no federal lighting code.
- You must educate like crazy. About 95% of the work is education.
- You must make allies of the people with the lights.
- A lighting code will set a community standard; it says what we want our community to look like.
- The only correlation between crime and lighting is that crime happens where there is "bad" lighting. (bad = unshielded, glare, light pollution).
- You must listen to the lighting professionals. For example, you might think that tall poles would be bad, but they actually reduce glare when lighting large areas.

Representatives from GE Lighting, Holophane, and Magnaray talked about their "good" outdoor lighting products, including Full Cut-Off (FCO) street lamps and sporting lights.

Safeco field uses GE lights. The next time you see Safeco field lit up at night, notice how much glare there is. You will notice that there isn't much. Wouldn't it be great if we could get all of the local sports fields converted to low-glare lighting. One key point is that lights are cheap compared to the costs of wiring, poles, and electricity. Quality lighting is often skipped to cut costs. What can we do? Educate!

Golf driving ranges are just about impossible to light in a light pollution friendly way because the golfers want to see the ball as it flies through the air.

Sometimes you've got to go to the other side of the country to meet your neighbors. I met a fellow named Del Armstrong who is a lighting engineer from Bellevue. His company, Softlite, specializes in sports lighting. He is currently involved in a lighting project on the south end of Greenlake where the playing fields are. He said that he is having a hard time convincing the people involved about the importance of using modern low glare lighting. I gave him my e-mail address and asked that he contact us to give testimony to a local group that is in charge of the Greenlake lighting project.

I asked Del what could be done about the sports lighting up the street from my house in northern Ballard (Loyal Heights Community Center), which spills all over the place. To my astonishment he told me that he had installed those lights about 20 years ago. He told me to go to the Parks Department on Dexter Ave. N. and see if new low glare lights can be installed. Needless to say, this is on my short list of things to do! Del also had a lot to do with the outdoor lighting codes on Mercer Island and Bellevue.

I met Cupa Dagdagan and Efke Skinner, two women from Yakima. They are concerned with the increased light pollution in Yakima caused by all of the people building houses on the hill sides around Yakima. They both work at the SageRoot Center. I look forward to seeing them this summer at the Table Mountain Star Party.

I met Bill Hughes, a retired lighting engineer for the City of Portland, Oregon. Next time you're down, there check out the good street lighting. It's the result of Bill's hard work. Portland has had FCO lighting since 1980. It's encouraging to hear how one person's effort can have such a beneficial effect. If Bill can do so much good, so can we!

On Saturday night we ate dinner at the China Rose, the local astronomers hang-out. After dinner we heard David Levy give a very moving talk about Gene Shoemaker. After that we all headed over to the University of Arizona to hear Dr. Woody Sullivan give his excellent talk titled "The Earth at Night," the same talk he gave to the SAS a few months ago.

On Saturday we heard some very interesting talks on the physiology of light, including a talk by Dr. Joan Roberts about the circadian rhythm, light, and the immune system. Some surprising discoveries have been made. For example the part of the immune system that fights cancer turns on while you are sleeping. The bottom line is that you should have a dark place to sleep for your immune system to work properly. Dr. Roberts studies ocular photoxoicity at both Fordham and the National Institute of Health Sciences.

We learned how the eye responds to light at different wavelengths and different lighting levels. The cones are active in bright light (photopic vision) and are more sensitive to red light. The rods are active in weak lighting (scoptopic vision) and are more sensitive to blue light. When the lighting falls between bright and dim, your vision is said to be mesopic. Most outdoor lighting results in mesopic vision. However, most outdoor lighting was designed for photopic vision.

The implication is that metal halide lights are more efficient than high pressure sodium (HPS) lights. The halide lights have more blue in them then the HPS lights and are thus more efficient in terms of energy per perceived light.

We learned how lighting affects the aging eye. As the eye ages it becomes more sensitive to glare. This is an important point. We need to make allies with local groups of older citizens such as the American Association of Retired People (AARP). We need to educate them on how important good lighting is to them.

On Saturday night Leif Robinson, the editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, gave a talk about the History of Art and the Moon. I was visiting an old friend and missed it, but heard that it was very good.

On Sunday the conference ended with a tour of Kitt Peak National Observatory. Kitt peak is 56 miles west of Tucson and is located on the Tohono O'odham Reservation. Kitt Peak has more telescopes than any other observatory. We saw the 4-meter Mayall scope and the 2-meter McMath-Pierce heilostat—the world's largest solar telescope. Kitt peak is a "Sky Island." It has incredible views of the far off desert.After the tour my brother-in-law Chris and I drove off to Southeast Arizona for a couple of nights of observing under incredibly dark skies. Even out there where few people live, you still see the occasional glaring mercury vapor lamp trying it's hardest to light up the night sky. I wonder how much longer until this part of the world has the glow that we've all become so used to. Or perhaps, just perhaps, the Northwest will become a place with deep dark skies like the outback of Arizona.

The IDA is a great organization. David Crawford, the Volunteer Executive Director, has incredible energy. He is a self proclaimed dark sky evangelist. Two of David's favorite lines summarize the IDA: "Unlike most evangelists who try to convince you that they are right, I am right!" "There are no enemies, only the uneducated."

Folks, we've got to get out there and educate the masses. The people need us; they want us. This need has fallen upon us, and we must act now! I talk to people all the time who hate the lights, the sky glow, and the light trespass. It's not just us, a bunch of nutty old astronomy fanatics. It's everybody!

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