365DaysDate:  January 18, 2009


Title:  Gosh Dim It All!

Podcasters:  Chuck Bueter and the Let There Be Night Team

Organization:  Let There Be Night

Description:   Thousands of kids from one school district are preparing to quantify how much of the night sky has already been lost.  While students observe Orion to determine their limiting magnitude at home, teams from each of 14 schools will concurrently measure sky glow at school grounds with meters. To convey the results  visually, the teams will build 3-D models out of LEGO® blocks, then present their findings and recommendations to local leaders.    A community dialogue about outdoor lighting practices parallels what Galileo might say: “The old model no longer works–we have to change our way of thinking.”

Bio: Podcast host Chuck Bueter and planetarium director Art Klinger recently compiled the Let There Be Night collection of resources for dark sky advocates, including a set of two DVDs, a planetarium program, an interactive Second Life environment, and the obligatory website.  Chuck is active with the US IYA Dark Skies Awareness Group, and has promoted dark skies in his community, at conferences, and at online workshops.  While awaiting the 2012 Transit of Venus, Chuck dabbles in Paper Plate Education, maintains, and values the at-home dad gig.

Today’s Sponsor:  Paper Plate Education


Let There Be Night (LTBN) proposes that the old model of lighting up the night no longer works; we have to change our way of thinking about outdoor lighting.

Hi, I’m Chuck Bueter, and along with planetarium director Art Klinger, am coordinating the LTBN program in our community.  If we want people to act to lessen their impact on the night sky, we have to motivate them by their nighttime experience, not ours.  We encourage you to lead a group, big or small, in looking up.  Take a step toward darker skies.  Hopefully, this podcast will suggest dark sky advocacy can be well received in your community, too.

Light pollution is errant and excessive light that manifests itself as glare, light trespass, and sky glow.  At risk are energy and money, including tax dollars; personal security, which is often why people need lights in the first place; the entire nocturnal kingdom with its mating and movement and predator/prey relationships; human health, as suggested by several recent studies; and we’re losing the heritage of the night sky.

Astronomer Connie Walker, an education specialist at the NOAO in Tucscon, AZ, describes the impact.

Even though it is severe toward astronomy and research in astronomy, it is actually one of the most easily remedied of all the environmental problems.  It is infringing upon most observatories so that places like Kitt Peak Observatory in another few decades will not be able to have any observations done from the mountaintop.  And one way we’d like to halt the infringement is by educating the public.

LTBN is a two part program.  First it is a collection of resources that have been generously contributed by dark sky advocates for inclusion on two DVDs.  There are videos, storytelling, tutorials, activities, songs, lesson plans, and other content that you can tailor to your audience and your needs.  The DVDs are available through the Great Lakes Planetarium Association.

Second, LTBN is a community-wide science experiment that asks, “How much of the night sky have we already lost?”  In northern Indiana, the Penn Harris Madison School Corporation, or PHM, is expanding on Globe at Night, one of the Cornerstone Projects of the International Year of Astronomy.  In the last two weeks of March, thousands of PHM kids will look up to count the stars in the constellation of Orion.

Again, Connie Walker describing Globe at Night:

It is one way to get anyone, anywhere in the world involved in a program where they can make a difference on a local level to a global challenge.  And all it requires is a couple of minutes of people’s time to go outside and look at the constellation of Orion, compare what they see to one of seven maps (each of these maps are stellar maps), and they would go online, put that number in online at the Globe at Night website, as well as their location, and their time and date.  A few weeks later, all the data that was entered by people all across the world is made into a world map that shows the sky brightness for where they live across the globe.

Additionally, teams of students from 14 PHM schools are going to quantify the sky glow with hand-held Sky Quality Meters.  To show visually how much of the night sky has been lost, the student teams will build a model out of LEGO blocks, similar to the 3-D grids being constructed by astronomers at Kitt Peak and Cerro Tololo observatories.  After analysis and discussion in the classroom, the teams will present their findings and recommendations to the PHM school board.

Fifth grader A.J. Waldron describes his role:

We’re gonna be looking at Orion the Hunter and we’re gonna look around at the light pollution.  See how much light we can see.  I mean, see how much like stars we can see when, like, the lights are up…From what I think, it sounds really fun, and if we come along and present it to the school board they might think it’s really cool.

Nancy Nimtz, Assistant Superintendent of PHM Schools, describes why she values LTBN and its contribution to the Globe at Night campaign.

From a district administrator’s point of view, it has all the elements that good teaching requires.  It has student engagement, because the children are actually doing hands-on kind of activity, and their using scientific instruments…And children get to become a part of a bigger, truly authentic learning experience and scientific experience.  So they see it as being allowed to participate in something much greater than themselves.

Even if you didn’t think that light source was important or that light even mattered, this opportunity is to do the things that scientists do, to do the things that business planners do, to do the things that entrepreneurs have to do.  So it’s teaching kids some skills they’re going to use their whole life.  It just happens that LTBN is the content.

Again, fifth-grader A.J. Waldron:

It doesn’t really just sound interesting saying ‘Light pollution’, but just from the basics of what we’re gonna be doing and how we’re going to be doing it, it sounds pretty fun.  If maybe some other people would like to maybe, like, study light pollution and stuff because they heard of what we did, maybe it could help them.

One of the objectives of LTBN is to start a community dialogue about outdoor lighting issues. While A.J. was in class, I spoke with his mom, Colleen Waldron.

The entire community is gathering together to study the effect of the different types of pollution we have at night such as lights focusing in the wrong place and not losing our lights efficiently.  So we’re going to be studying that…I just think that when there’s a large group of people coming together then it is one voice when they come together.  And I think people are interested in what the children have to say.

Again, Nancy Nimtz.

So not only is it a good topic, and not only is it relevant to our ecosystem and our planet, and to our community, it’s also very relevant to what goes on in the classroom and what teaches children to become lifelong learners…I was a little worried about whether our teachers would buy into it because being a teacher is tough business and there are so many things that are expected of them.  They’ve embraced it-the kids have embraced it, the staff have embraced it.  I walk through buildings and I see artwork on Orion…I see kids talking about it.  I’ve been over to the planetarium, observed some classes there, and what their response was to it…I really am impressed with what our students know.  This would have never happened for them if it were not for this project.

Connie Walker reflects on the very last night of Globe at Night, namely, March 28, which coincides with Earth Hour.

What they got the people to do is to coordinate with their cities and shut off lights and try to calculate the kind of carbon footprint that was saved.  And of course the wonderful side effect to all that was that people got to see dark skies, which they don’t usually see from cities.  And a lot of children who had never seen dark skies were able to see dark skies for a change.

Jonathon Lutz, owner of the Uptown Kitchen restaurant, participated in Earth Hour in 2008.

I think it’s a great thing to do mostly because it does raise awareness about the environment and we’re not doing enough yet to help reverse all of the negative trends that are happening to our planet.  That being said, from a business standpoint we had a great night.  People were in a great mood.  They had a lot of fun with the fact that the lights were out and we had candles on the tables-the entire night was done by candlelight-and we made a lot of money that night.  We’ll certainly talk that night [in 20009] to our customers about what we can all do to make our world a better and safer place for our children and grandchildren to come.

Again, Nancy Nimtz:

There’s a dynamics you get when you have a large group of people participating in something.  There’s an energy, a synergy….I think our school district is building on that energy, and it’s become a very nice, very valuable process that will have a ripple effect far beyond what we ever anticipated.

So, there you have our community’s effort to address the value of the night.  For details, see  Thank you.

[Closing music by Bandazian.]

365 Days of Astronomy
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