Wednesday, April 27, 2005

O Beautiful, For Darker Skies

M83 barred spiral galaxy
Have you ever looked at a picture of a majestic spiral galaxy like the one -- M83 -- pictured here and wondered what it would be like to live in one?

Get ready for this: We DO!

Our planet Earth, the Sun, and all of our neighboring planets are situated about two-thirds of the way out one of the stellar arms of a barred spiral galaxy like M83, that we call the Milky Way.

Composed of billions of stars so far away that the spiral arm we live in looks to us like a trail of milk painted across the night sky, the Milky Way can no longer be seen, indeed has NEVER been seen, by millions of Earth's residents because of artificial light pollution.

While unwanted light is mainly a big problem to professional and amateur astronomers who study the stars, it prevents us all from enjoying the beauty and majesty of the universe we live in. Entire generations of city dwellers and suburbanites worldwide have been deprived of ever being able to see the magnificent river of stars above us.

Fortunately, lighting engineers have developed new ways of giving us nighttime illumination for commerce and security that doesn't invade our night skies, and may in fact be less expensive to operate than traditional lighting. But much work must be done to educate the public and our elected officials, and to pass laws enabling the new lighting provisions.

Lights should illuminate the ground. Light directed to the sky is wasted, expensive, and pollutes the night.

You can get involved in restoring our nighttime sky. Check out the International Dark-Sky Association and see how you can help save the Milky Way.

Look up an astronomy club near you, visit one of their public star parties and look through their telescopes at the wonders above us in the night sky. You and your family will love the experience.

May your skies be clear -- and DARK.

-- Dalton Hammond

Some Dark Sky Treats

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