IDA – Learning to Assess Lighting

According the to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)

“Light pollution is growing at the rate of 4%- far faster than the population.”

My first thought after reading this was, “Huh??”. Then again, does it really surprise me? Does it surprise you? As amateur astronomers, our desire for dark skies may seem a little self-centered to those who haven’t caught the bug for spending hours hugging a telescope in the middle of a chilly night. The number of people I run across during outreach events that haven’t seen the Milky Way or even know what the Milky Way is, is mind-boggling in itself. Setting our hobby to the side for a moment, let’s think about other areas affected by light pollution. Again, from the IDA –

…poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.

Ok, I’ll take my chances with the disruption of my biological clock, after all, I’ve learned to grab a few hours’ sleep here and there for the sake of observing. What I’m not alright with is how light pollution may jeopardize the health of my loved ones, and I’m especially concerned about the ecosystem. We pat ourselves on the back for turning off lights when leaving a room or because we’ve switched to energy-saving light bulbs. Surely there’s more we could…should…be doing to preserve our night skies.

Steve Bosbach's IDA presentation at the AAS monthly meeting in February

Steve Bosbach’s IDA presentation at the AAS monthly meeting in February

After learning more about the IDA from Steve Bosbach, our astro club’s representative and now a Texas IDA coordinator, I wanted to lend a hand in some way. He gave a presentation during one of our club meetings and has repeatedly requested help to assess lighting at state parks in Texas. I volunteered. It’s my hope that others will follow suit.

Yesterday, Steve and I met at one of my regular recreational spots, Inks Lake State Park. With the park map in hand, he walked me through his process of assessing the park lighting. We drove through the park before sunset, stopping at each location that sported lights to take notes and photographs. We were looking for fixture/lighting types, how they were mounted, locations, and if they were working properly. Once we completed the circuit, we drove back to the park headquarters and passed the time until dark. After the sun set, we ran through the whole process once more for night comparison. The evening was completed with using a sky quality meter to record how dark the skies are at that park. Steve also took a timed photo of the horizon’s sky glow.

Steve will generate a letter of lighting assessment based on his notes and photographs. That assessment will then be sent to the IDA as well as the park’s supervisor. The purpose for the assessment is to evaluate the park’s lighting to limit light pollution and in some cases, if the skies are dark enough, to potentially list it as an IDA acknowledged dark sky park. Steve will list weather conditions, current lighting at the park, a night sky evaluation, lighting recommendations, comparisons of day and night photos as well occasionally comparing the photos with other parks, and lastly, explaining how the IDA is available for inspecting retrofits and assisting the park in meeting IDA requirements to be listed as a dark sky park.

I feel confident in visiting the next park on my own for notes and photos. Steve will be on hand should I need help with my assessment letter or have any questions. If anyone in the central Texas area would like to help me, I’d certainly appreciate it. Likewise, if you’d like to become involved in your own area, please feel free to contact me and I’ll get back to you with tips on how to get started. Please visit the International Dark-Sky Association website for more information or to contact them directly. We can make a difference!

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~ by Erika Rix on March 2, 2013.

5 Responses to “IDA – Learning to Assess Lighting”

  1. Erika; I am very near Inks Lake, but hadn’t considered it a dark sky site. Maybe we’ll meet out there sometime come summer. Do you just get a campsite, or have you found a better place to view from?

    • Hi Esther. I didn’t see any nice open spots in the more secluded areas for a good observing session. There were open areas in the cabin/RV areas, but then you have a lot more light from the campers. I normally use Inks lake for day hikes and kayaking. Do you do much observing from Canyon of the Eagles since it’s so close?

      • No, I’ve only been out there once: it’s actually a 45 minute drive for me…and my front lot is not so bad for the little observing that I do. I want to join the club someday, though, and have access to it just to see how much I might use it.

      • The club has a lot to offer, depending on how much you’d like to become involved with it.You’re always welcomed to join in on meetings or the public star parties!

  2. […] To see how assessments are performed, please see IDA – Learning to Assess Lighting. […]

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