Date: November 11, 2010

Title: Too Much Light!


Podcaster: Carolyn Collins Petersen

Organization: Loch Ness Productions –
Music from A Gentle Rain of Starlight, and Music from SpacePark360, by Geodesium –

Description: Carolyn Collins Petersen, TheSpacewriter, talks about how humans are lighting up the sky, wasting money and chasing away the stars.

Bio: Carolyn Collins Petersen is a science writer and show producer, as well as vice-president of Loch Ness Productions, ( a company that creates astronomy documentaries and other materials. She works with planetariums, science centers, and observatories on products that explain astronomy and space science to the public. Her most recent projects include documentary scripts, exhibits for NASA/JPL, the Griffith Observatory and the California Academy of Sciences, video podcasts for MIT’s Haystack Observatory and podcasts for the Astronomical society of the Pacific’s “Astronomy Behind the Headlines” project.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by David Moore and dedicated to Andrea Bonilla, a star that fell to earth. Happy birthday Andrea!


This is Carolyn Collins Petersen, TheSpacewriter.

A long time ago, in a backyard far, far away, I began to explore the sky. I don’t quite remember exactly WHAT I saw, but I have this vague memory of seeing twinkling white things up there and asking my dad where the satellites were. I was only five at the time.

A long time has passed since those nights – and I remember they were DARK nights. Even though I lived near a small town, with all its streetlights and so on, we still had dark skies.

Not so much today. Most kids in urban and suburban environments have to contend with a LOT more light pollution than I did, which makes it harder to see the beauty of the night sky.

Beginning in 1997, I lived on the East Coast of the United States for 12 years, near the city of Boston. We happened to be in a reasonably dark-sky area out where we lived. And, we were lucky. Some nights we could make out the Milky Way. The folks in Boston and New York and all the other cities up and down the East Coast weren’t so lucky.

I remember trying to do a little stargazing one night from the middle of New York City. I made out maybe five bright stars and that was it. The rest was a glow of ground-based light.

Cities around the world have this problem. We are a species that thinks we are so wealthy with power that we can waste it by sending kajillions of kilowatts of light into space. Every light that blazes upward is costing money to light up the night sky. It doesn’t need to be illuminated. Car dealers are among the worst culprits – it would save them a LOT of money to shine those lights DOWN on the cars, but for some reason, many of them seem to think that it’s okay to waste money on powering lights that shine UP.

Think about THAT when you buy a car. Some of the price of that car is used to waste money on lighting up the sky.

Think about that the next time you go to a big concert and see the huge electronic sign lighting up the nearest 20 blocks, plus the night sky. Do you really need to pay a few extra dollars for your ticket to the Monster Truck Rally just so the venue can waste it on lighting up the sky?

Look around your town, your village, your city. You’ll see lots of really insulting examples of people and companies wasting money with bright lights aimed the wrong way. They may claim its for safety, but in some cases, the poor way they light their businesses and streets actually is LESS safe. If you’ve ever had a bright light from one of those concert venues nearly blind you while you’re driving, you’ll know what I mean.

It’s not just that thoughtless light polluters are obscuring the stars – and ruining the darkness that humans and other forms of life need as part of their daily cycle. It’s also that they are money into the sky – simply burning it up in wasteful light, just because they can.

Better use of lighting enhances our quality of life, lowers the use and cost of electricity for both consumers and businesses, saves fuels, and lets us enjoy the stars. That’s not a bad thing, when you think about it. You CAN be safe and well-lit. You don’t have to light up the sky and burn up money. What you have to do is learn to use light appropriately.

Check out the International Dark-Sky Association at their web page:

It’s a group that has some of the best lighting advice you’ll ever read. And, if more of us followed their suggestions, we’d have darker skies, lower light bills, and more time for us and the kids in our lives to enjoy the sky on a dark, starry night.

If you’d like to learn more about lighting issues, point your browser to and click on the 365 Days of Astronomy tab.

Thanks for listening and keep looking up at dark skies!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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