Light pollution a focus of sky-watching project
Islanders are invited to join a worldwide program starting tonight to collect data on light pollution that makes it difficult to see stars.
Lights shining up to the sky result in more than $7 million a year in wasted energy and hinder stargazing in Hawaii, says University of Hawaii astronomer Richard Wainscoat.
"It is no longer possible to see the Milky Way at night from much of Honolulu," he said.
The Hawaii Institute for Astronomy scientist is encouraging students, families and others interested in stars to participate in international observations of the nighttime sky.
JOIN THE SEARCH
Activity packets to join the worldwide star search GLOBE at Night can be downloaded from www.globe.gov/gan.
The site lists five star-hunting steps.
The program begins today and continues through March 21, with participants reporting and comparing observations on the Web site.
The GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Program will continue through March 21, from 7 to 10 p.m., when the moon won't be up.
"This is for everyone to do," Wainscoat said. "Part of the theme is to document the effect of nighttime lighting. ... A lot of light pollution on this island is unnecessary. It comes from poor lighting."
A limited number of light meters will be used this year to measure the darkest places and those most affected by artificial light, Wainscoat said. On Oahu, Punahou School third- and fifth- grade classes will be provided with light meters, he said.
On the Big Island, Gemini Observatory and Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii will each distribute five light meters to science classes, said Janice Harvey, in charge of education outreach at Gemini.
Viewing ideally is done every night, Harvey said, "but we're going to have challenges because there are not always clear skies here."
With some of the world's largest observatories atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii County has strict lighting standards to reduce light pollution, said Gail Loeffler, of the Imiloa Astronomy Center.
For that reason, the Big Island could serve as a base line for light pollution standards, said Janet Babb, education program manager at Imiloa, adding, "We are very anxious to see how our data compares to other places."
The two will collect data from student observations on the Big Island and send one report to GLOBE.
Last year, more than 18,000 people from 96 countries on all continents except Antarctica made 4,500 nighttime observations, according to the GLOBE at Night Web site.
Rain interfered with observations in Hawaii, and astronomers are hoping for better weather this time, Wainscoat said.
A major goal is to document the effects of nighttime lighting, he said, which not only blocks our view of the stars, but confuses birds and endangered turtles. "Light pollution has recently been linked to human health problems. We need dark at night to sleep," he said.
Light pollution can be reduced by using properly shielded lights and using light only at the times and in the amounts needed, Wainscoat said.
"One thing that's going to be very clear for students on the Big Island and Oahu: Students on the Big Island will see so many more stars because the sky is darker."