Printer Friendly

Light pollution: plus ca change?

The French critic, journalist and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) had a famous epigram: 'plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose', or 'the more things change, the more they stay the same.' Whilst astronomers are becoming increasingly affected by light pollution, complaints about this phenomenon are not new.

In fact Col. E. E. Markwick (1853-1925), BAA President from 1912 to 1914 and Variable Star Section Director 1899 and 1909, wrote of his frustrations about increasing light pollution in his home town of Bournemouth more than 100 years ago. I thought readers might be interested to see part of the letter he wrote to the English Mechanic in July 1910. It struck me that, apart from the phraseology and reference to gas lights, it could have been penned yesterday.

'... We are beginning to find out what an important part nature study in its manifold directions holds in our social life; and the more so, seeing that modern 'civilisation' is hostile to many forms of life not immediately bound up with that of the genus homo. But among the facilities for nature-study which are now becoming recognised as necessaries of modern life, I have not yet noted any formal recognition of reserving places or areas where one may study the sky by night, under the same, or nearly the same, conditions as prevail in open country districts far removed from sources of glaring artificial light, and from factory chimneys, or large masses of domestic houses, pouring out their streams and clouds of smoke into the air.

It seems to me that the time has come when in town-planning provision should be made for the study of astronomy as it was practised by the ancients. What are our requirements in this respect, and how can we meet them? What we want is a sufficiently large, level space of ground, to give us a practically open horizon in all directions... And then (which is the great difficulty nowadays) we want this ground to be dark--that is, the air above it not to be illuminated by gas or electric lights. I fear that in the existing state of things we can never hope to attain the purity of sky which holds in country districts, or the desert. But very much might be done to create an ideal 'observing park', by screening any lights absolutely necessary in the roads approaching or surrounding it, while any factory chimneys near must be strictly taboo...

The great difficulty is that municipal authorities and the police do not like dark places in our towns, which is quite natural to understand. My point is that in planning a town, provision should be made to meet as far as possible the requirements of those who 'consider the heavens,' ...where they can go of an evening to study the planets in season, the moon, a comet visible, meteors, the Zodiacal Light, and, grandest of all, the universe of stars, with the Milky Way, forming the grandest canopy above us that can be conceived...

But some will probably rejoin, Have you not now large parks and open spaces in all towns--are they not sufficient? I reply, Are they open from 6 to 12 p.m.? Are they free from the glare of town or public lights? Doubtless there are many coigns of vantage from which splendid views of the sky can be had, subject to limitations of some sort. For example, the view from the Spaniards-road at Hampstead Heath. I also call to mind the view of the southern heavens obtainable from the East Cliff, Bourne-mouth. Here you have a grand sweep of the southern horizon, looking over the Channel, with no lights at all on the road. To the north there is town glare. How long will this state of things continue?

I have no doubt that when the Undercliff drive to Boscombe is completed, the upper road will then be fully lighted, and those who used to repair thither to learn or to teach simple open-air astronomy will in time find their sky views marred by the glare of lights...'

I don't know what Col. Markwick would make of the skies over Bournemouth today! But hopefully, supported by the great work being done by the Campaign for Dark Skies, things will change for the better for all of us who like to see the stars.

Jeremy Shears

'Pemberton', School Lane, Bunbury, Tarporley, Cheshire, CW6 9NR []
COPYRIGHT 2011 The British Astronomical Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Shears, Jeremy
Publication:Journal of the British Astronomical Association
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jun 1, 2011
Previous Article:The speed of the lunar shadow on Earth during solar eclipses.
Next Article:Reporting the aurora.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters