Friday, March 11, 2011

Where is the Milky Way?

Dr. Roy Plotnick spoke at the March 9th Sustainability Lunch Series about the effects of light pollution to the environment, humans and animals. He began with the question:
"How many of you have actually seen the Milky Way?"
It then occurred to me that his question was very relevant. Growing up in a small town in Central Illinois, I was surrounded by corn fields, not skyscrapers and city lights. Every night I would get the opportunity to see the Milky Way-we would just have to walk out onto the driveway set up our telescope and the sky was entirely ours.

Dr. Plotnick can't do that with his telescope from his home in Oak Park. He told us that in the suburbs the night sky is 5-10% brighter than the natural sky glow- in the city it is anywhere from 25-50%!

Darksky.org defines light pollution as any adverse effect of manmade light. Often used to denote urban sky glow. Light pollution is caused by light trespass, sky glow, and glare because of too much light pointing anywhere but where it is needed. Light pollution is a major source of energy waste; therefore wasting money as well.

The affects of light pollution are more complex than one would think. Light pollution affects bird migrations, nocturnal animals, marine migration, driver safety, public security and the environment. Wildlife live on a rhythmic 24 hour cycle and become disoriented with the change in lighting. Human health is disrupted by sleeping patterns, safety and glare.

In conclusion, a total of 2/3 of the population are not able to see the Milky Way from their home. Outdoor lighting creates a safe and secure environment and enhances historic and notable features for humans. However, the light needs to be shielded downwards. Unshielded luminaries waste energy because it spills out away from tasks needed. As I stated before, wasting energy wastes money, and one of the greatest things humans can experience- The Milky Way!

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