People (and comets) and street lights don’t mix

Comet NEOWISE is only 68 million miles away, outbound at 17,500 mph.My camera and I had an interesting experience together this week. We tried to get a decent picture of the comet NeoWISE. Three nights, three efforts, and I finally got one shot I’d not feel badly about showing people.

Unfortunately, the speeding chunk of ice was 68 million miles away, and between me and a town only 30 miles away. A friend, looking at one of my better pictures, noted the glow on the horizon looked like a sunrise. I replied the glow was on the western horizon and was, in fact, Chambersburg.

The comet was near the horizon, as was the glowing blockade of several towns. Let me explain.

We often think of pollution in terms of air and water. Those three nights this week, I was reminded of another kind of pollution, generally caused by our habit down here on the ground of leaving lights on all night.

In my younger days I flew light airplanes for fun and travel and was surprised to discover that at night, one could look down and identify cities, and many small towns, by the patterns of their illumination – the effect of residential street lamps, new and used car lots and Walmart parking. An Internet search reveals lots of pictures, shot from space, depicting amazingly clear images of terrestrial towns.

To see what Adams County looks like from space, check out the interactive map at https://www.lightpollutionmap.info/. Or visit Cities at Night at the NASA Earth Observatory. The views are impressive.

Developers like to illuminate their creations. I don’t blame them for being proud of what they’ve made, until it hinders my ability to see the night sky or to get a night’s sleep. Or stops an urban youngster seeing the stars as they pass over her head, precluding a prospective astronaut seeing the twinkling beckoning of a future destination.

Many devices with which we surround ourselves – some outdoor and indoor LED bulbs, computers, tablets, and other electronic displays – put off a blue light that some researchers have linked to human health problems. (For those who read in bed, which I’ve done since I was little enough for Mommy to tell me not to, many tablets and smartphones have a switch that turns on a blue light filter, helping you sleep better after reading becomes tiring.)

A 2016 report by the American Medical Association affirmed assertions that blue light given off by some LED bulbs is five times worse than conventional street lighting at hampering sleep patterns, impairing daytime performance, and contributing to obesity – probably because when we’re not sleeping, we’re eating.

Light color is measured in degrees Kelvin, with the warmer colors – reds and browns, for instance – at the cooler end. The hot end, like the flame of a torch, is at the blue end of the spectrum. Light bulbs have the color printed on the label, the way a package on the register counter lists how much sugar is in a serving of cookies.

The AMA supports using LED bulbs for outdoor lighting because they burn less energy, but also supports the International Dark-sky Association in its recommendation that we use bulbs rated lower than 3000 degrees Kelvin.

So there it is. I submit the only real benefit of night lighting is on the bottom line of the electricity company. Also, it can be harmful for humans and other critters who make our lives down here on the planet surface.

And think of the money we would save on our municipal budgets if – as Grandma used to regularly exhort, we turned the lights out when we’re not using them.

Thanks for taking me along. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Comments are welcome, and please feel free to share. Please click the “Share” button to share it on social media, or copy the URL and send it to friends and acquaintances you think might appreciate it.

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