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All posts for the month January, 2011

Another Island of Starry Darkness

In a world increasingly and wastefully lit by lights that shine upward illuminating nothing, the Island of Sark in the English Channel has become the first dark sky island.  It was so-designated by the International Dark Sky Association, which noted that the island’s non-use of public street lighting — in fact, it has no paved roads or cars — makes it an ideal palce form which to see the dark sky.

Sark is one of only a few places in the world that are designated dark-sky sites.  The others are Hortobágy Starry Sky Park in Hungary, Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah (USA), Galloway Forest Park in Scotland, Zselic National Landscape Protection area in Hungary, Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania (USA), Geauga Park District Observatory Park in Ohio (USA), Clayton Lake State Park in New Mexico (USA), and Goldendale Observatory Park in Washington (USA).

This designation is made to identify and honor protected public places that make a commitment to warding off light pollution and pre serving access to the dark sky.  It’s not just about stargazing, but also about committing to wise energy usage (that is, not wasting money lighting up the sky), and wise lighting practice. This is something that affects life on our planet — not just humans, but all life that is tuned to the circadian rhythms of night and day, light and dark.

I’ve never been able to understand why it is that politicians in the U.S. do NOT work toward the energy savings that could result from wiser use of lighting.  Is it because they don’t care? Are they pressured NOT to care by those who make money from our energy use?  Or, is the difference between night and day just not morally apparent to them anymore?  It may come as a shock to those who think that with lighting we are safer and without it we are heathens or something, but you know what?  We need that cycle of night and day. Our economy, our environment, our health depends on it.  Even lighting companies are hopping on the bandwagon of wise use, as represented by the many who are involved in IDA’s outreach. They (and all of us who advocate for wise lighting use) know that lighting up the sky to sell a few more cars or illuminate a religious statue (an ironic use of light, really), or blind oncoming drivers with fancy, actinic-glowboards advertising the latest monster truck rally at the coliseum, is simply showing that we have money to burn.  When, in fact, we don’t.  A world in recession doesn’t need to splash its graphics to space. The universe doesn’t care about our light usage.  But, we should.  The wiser our use of lighting, the less we spend on burning the fuels that are harming our environment.

And, yes, the more stars we will be able to see at night. We came from the stars. We should be able at least glimpse them once in a while.

A Time to Pause

Remembering NASA's lost astronauts

The last week in January and the first week of February marks three tragedies that befell NASA since its formation: the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967, the breakup of 51L — space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, and the loss of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003. Each event marked a fatal steppingstone for NASA, and for all those who favor the exploration of space. Each event also marked a turning point and a lesson learned for those who design and build the vehicles that get our astronauts to space.

Just as the U.S. and most other countries salute their fallen military heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe in, and as we all honor those who risk their lives to save others (firefighters, law enforcement, and many others), today we take a moment and pause to remember those who gave their lives for the peaceful pursuit of space exploration.

Today is NASA’s Day of Remembrance for the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. Take a moment today to pause and think about these people and their families.