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Volume xviii, Issue 16 ~ Apri 22 to April 28, 2010

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Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

Turn off the Lights

Misdirected illumination is robbing us of our night skies

The waxing moon rises mid-afternoon at week’s end, dimly visible against a clear blue sky even in daylight. With Friday’s sunset at 7:51, the gibbous moon appears high in the southeast, with the silvery-hued, first-magnitude star Spica six degrees higher — well within the field of view of most binoculars. Saturday the moon shines to the west of Saturn, and Sunday closer and to the east of the ringed planet. Monday and Tuesday, the moon shines less than 10 degrees below the brilliant white light of Spica.

Wednesday marks April’s full moon, the milk moon or the planting moon. Rising with sunset and setting the next morning as the sun rises, the full moon shines bright enough that just about anyone anywhere is able to see it, even in slightly hazy and overcast conditions. But I’ve been told over the years that friends and readers are unable to see some of the objects I write on, like the minor constellations, star clusters and even summer’s Milky Way. The culprit: light pollution.

In cities like Washington, New York or Chicago there’s no escaping the glare. There, on a clear night you might at best see the moon, the major planets and maybe the 10 brightest stars.

But outside of these urban hot spots, light pollution is not the unavoidable cost of civilization but rather the result of misused and misdirected light. Across the country, many municipalities have taken a stand against light pollution, opting for downward-directed and yellow-hued street lights.

On the home front, you can make a difference by minimizing your use of outdoor lighting. Make sure that the outdoor fixtures you do use are well shielded and direct the light only to where it is needed.

For more information, check out the International Dark-Sky Association:

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