Thursday, 31 March 2011

Light trespass

My observing site is rural with some skyglow from nearby towns, although this is only really noticeable when there's a lot of water vapour in the atmosphere and the sky is hazy. The house and garden are on farmland but we do have a couple of neighbours just across the public footpath which runs alongside the garden.
One set of neighbours, a retired couple, are fine, they only put lights on when needed and they don't have security lights. The ones next to them, however, have an upstairs light which is kept on - unnecessarily, in my opinion - all the time during the dark hours; normally I wouldn't object, because it's their electricity bill, but it faces my observing site. They also have a badly-aligned outside light in their garden which they switch on when they let their dog out, and this blitzes my observing area because the light goes right through the hedge - I don't blame them for lighting the way for their dog, we do the same for our three except our light is better aligned and doesn't shine anywhere else other than where it is supposed to. Our garden hedge that side (north) is quite high but the foliage doesn't cover all the gaps. It's not as bad in the summer because the leaves on the trees block out some of the light (I hope the neighbours don't decide to chop them down!).

I could do what other observers do and ask the neighbours to turn their lights off - and at least the security light isn't on all the time - but I feel awkward doing so. Therefore, I am going to rig up some sort of screen to stop the light trespass. I think the easiest way of doing this will be to put up a couple of easily removable poles and hang blackout cloth, or a large wooden panel, across them. The cloth will be easier to put up and store when not in use.

On a related note, the local council here have got a large grant from the UK government (only two other areas in the UK have got similar funding) to repair the highways, from resurfacing all the roads to renewing bus shelters to replacing the existing decades-old street lights. Apparently the new lighting is to be LEDs which will be brighter but, properly shielded, will not cause skyglow. I have read mixed things about LEDs and how they can make an illuminated area as bright as day, is this necessary? How bright do people need it to be? Is the nation really that scared of the dark? And it won't reduce crime: when living in London and Southampton, both large cities with loads of lights, I witnessed several muggings and was myself the victim of an attempted assault, all which took place at night in the full glare of the street lights. Scumbags need light to see what they're doing, same as anyone else. Night-vision CCTV would probably be more effective than brightly illuminating everywhere. But if LEDs, despite their brightness, are shielded and the horrible orange glow vanishes, to be replaced by dark skies above then I won't be complaining.
In the meantime, as this is a 25-year plan, why don't the Isle of Wight Council do what a lot of other councils are doing and switch off the lights in order to save money and reduce their carbon footprint? The IW Council is broke and having to make massive cuts yet won't turn off the lights after midnight. This makes no sense, it's the easiest way to make savings and reduce their carbon footprint, with the added benefit (and probably most important to astronomers) that we get our dark skies back. I have written to them, yet never received so much as a 'thank you for contacting us' - although I have emailed them again today. There is a so-called 'Eco Island' initiative here, where they want to decrease the carbon consumption of the Isle of Wight and increase our standard of living. This is all good stuff, but nowhere on their site have I found any references to wasteful lighting, so I have written to them, too. It will be interesting to see what their reply is, if they do reply. If they don't then we'll know it's a load of hot air, in more ways than one.

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