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Can You See the Light (Part Two)

November 10, 2015
By Robert and Libby Strong and Richard Pollack - Contributing Writers , OVParent

In last month's issue of the Ohio Valley Parent Magazine, in the Just For Kids section, SMART Science introduced the ideas of pollution in general and specifically the idea of light pollution. The sky is said to be light polluted if there is an additional or greater than normal amount of light added into the nighttime sky affecting your ability to see a dark sky, faint stars and the Milky Way. Light pollution can come from natural sources, such as the sun and the moon, or from human-made artificial lights.

Recently, we had a conversation with a woman who was born and grew up in West Virginia. After college, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she now works. She was vacationing in West Virginia for a few days. When asked what she misses the most about living here, she said: "I miss the stars. I miss the nighttime sky. I miss the Milky Way and the occasional meteor. Where I live now, the sky is always a bright, nearly starless glow." Many people who live in big cities have never seen a dark, starry night that most of us here in the Ohio Valley take for granted.

There is good news as far as addressing light pollution here in the Mountain State and making our state even darker. The Office of Tourism in West Virginia is aware that enhancing the darkness of our already dark skies here in West Virginia will create a dark-sky tourism industry. Dark-sky tourism will bring people to West Virginia to experience the dark sky. This will create a greater need to fix local light pollution problems to make our skies even darker. Creating a darker, more natural and more friendly dark sky will help to make West Virginia ever more "wild and wonderful."

Article Photos

More good news: Grand Vue Park, in Marshall County, is making progress toward meeting the outdoor lighting criteria needed for applying to become the first park in West Virginia to be recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association as an official Dark Park!

Light Pollution Game:

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This game is best played at night when driving in the car with family or friends. The rules of the game are easy. You simply evaluate outdoor lighting you see as good, bad or ugly.

For more information on good and bad (acceptable and unacceptable) exterior or outdoor lighting, check out the International Dark-Sky Association's website

Good lighting is defined as shielded lighting that is energy efficient and does not produce a glare or create sky glow. Good lighting:

is only on when needed.

only lights the area needing lighting.

is not brighter than is necessary.

has a light fixture that is fully shielded and pointing downward.

has a light fixture with no light leaking sideward or upward.

Bad lighting is defined as outdoor lighting that:

wastes electricity.

does not direct light where it is needed.

Bad lighting is mostly emitted by poorly designed lighting fixtures. There are three main types of bad lighting fixtures:

1. Unshielded barn lights, often called dusk-to-dawn lights (see photo). These lights are among the worst offenders of outdoor lighting, wastefully throwing bright light in all directions all night long. Dusk-to-dawn lights are put up for safety - studies show these all night lights with no on-off switch do not do anything to deter crime.

2. Common unshielded street lights, often termed cobra head street lights. These lighting fixtures are almost as bad as the above dusk-to-dawn lights, throwing unnecessary illumination in all directions and causing a great deal of roadway glare at night. They are responsible for many nighttime accidents between cars and pedestrians.

3. Unshielded floodlights (usually wall-mounted or pole-mounted). These lights are used by many homes and businesses with the misguided idea that literally "flooding" an area with light will increase safety and decrease crime. Many studies have shown this is not true.

It should be noted that the street lighting in downtown Wheeling has for several streets been changed over from the standard cobra head fixtures (bad) to full cut-off fixtures (good). We suggest you take a ride around Wheeling during this transition from bad to good lighting fixtures and see what a difference it makes. Good job, Wheeling!

Ugly lighting is outdoor lighting that is so bad and wastes so much energy that:

the glare it produces actually hurts your eyes and or causes traffic safety concerns, and/or

the light fixture actually directs bright lighting directly upward, creating a localized sky glow or light cone above the light fixture and into the sky.

Ugly lighting is often misdirected commercial or residential lighting. Ugly lighting includes:

1. Nighttime highway billboard signs illuminated from the bottom upwards.

2. The unnecessary "vanity" lighting of entire business buildings, churches and homes.

3. Ornamental lighting (lighting from the bottom) of trees, shrubs, statues and walls; and, ornamental lighting on streets with unshielded, period-style fixtures - these fixtures look good until they are turned on.

Undirected "security" lighting causing glare for crime to hide within.

Unused parking lots and sports fields that remain illuminated.

How many ways can you think of to improve outdoor lighting where you live? In a future Ohio Valley Parent Magazine SMART Science article, we will tell you what you can do to help reduce the local light pollution in your area.

Libby and Robert Strong and Richard Pollack work with the SMART-Center, a hands-on science outreach and education organization in the northern Ohio Valley, the headquarters of which is located at the SMART Centre Market, 30 22nd St., Wheeling.



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