Monday, November 01, 2010

Turn Off The Lights

Actually, where I live, my night time sky is usually between 3 and 1 on this chart.  After 11 pm, the visibility increases quite a bit. I see the Milky Way and the major source of light "pollution" is the moon.
After 11pm, the lights in the small towns go off. I see them as glows on the horizon, except for Chatre, which is up on a hill top about the same elevation as I am. 
Chatre has a few sodium vapor lamps which give off a yellow/orange glow.
With the rising cost of energy and the need to conserve, many people here are asking why we need these high powered lights in rural areas. These were the "security solutions" of the 1990's. They were sold to the villages in a program by the EDF that focused on security concerns.
Imagine a village of 70 people with absolutely no commerce and historically a practically non existent crime rate needing a system of very energy inefficient expensive sodium vapor lamps to light up the one street as bright as day.
My town, Badefols d'Ans is just as bad, but luckily, I live far enough away to not have it affect me. In fact, the old mayor of Badefols was an employee of the EDF and he was able to get the system installed years before the other towns. Now the inhabitants complain about the high cost of electricity in the village budget each year. Crime? The local epicerie had a break in 2 years ago and some cigarettes were stolen.
Not only are we wasting money and energy, but we are collectively missing the awe inspiring show of all those planets, stars and galaxies dancing around us. That is the price of fear.
As Carl Sagan wrote:
When our prehistoric ancestors studied the sky after sunset, they observed that some of the stars were not fixed with respect to the constant pattern of the constellations. Instead, five of them moved, slowly forward across the sky, then backward for a few months, then forward again, as if they couldn't quite make up their minds. We call them planets, the Greek word for "wanderers." These planets presented a profound mystery. The earliest explanation was that they were living beings. How else to explain their strange looping behavior. Later they were thought to be gods, and then disembodied astrological influences. But the real solution to this mystery is that the planets are worlds, that the Earth is one of them, and that they all go around the sun according to precise mathematical laws. This discovery has led directly to our modern global civilization.

6 comments:

dennis hodgson said...

I live in Hong Kong, and our night sky must be about 15 on your scale: light pollution and regular pollution. The last full moon could have been mistaken for a giant orange.

There's a non sequitur in Sagan's statement: he's assuming that prehistoric humans actually spent enough time observing the heavens to recognize odd movements.

There's a very good chance that systematic observation of the heavens started only with settled agriculture and the first cities.

On the other hand, what prehistoric humans made of natural phenomena, from rainbows to night and day, to thunder and lightning, to eclipses, is an interesting topic for speculation.

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

My house is in a 9.

mud_rake said...

I recall seeing many more stars when I was a kid living on the edge of the city. Today I'm about an 7. i recall a trip that my friend and I took to Yellowstone in 1960 where every star shone in its magnificence! Ah, youth, before light pollution.

steve said...

You are so lucky to have a sky like that! Hobby Astronomy is my refuge from the crazy world. It's comforting to observe the sky - in so many ways.

microdot said...

Dennis, I do not think that Sagan was referring to cro- magnon or neandertals in his statement, but even discounting if that was his intent, I think you are making a really generalized statement that discounts the the intelligence and the time frame of the observations that led to these discoveries.
Perhaps we are being a bit xenophobic or counting too much on our perception of what is intelligence?
We as a specie have lost so much of our innate ability to interact with our environment. We have sacrificed sensory adaptations for comfort.
Imagine that you were so in tune with your world that you could sense the hardness of a rock, its usefulness by its taste or smell?
We have so much ability in our innate intelligence that has been lost to our inclination to seek comfort.
We are capable of things that computers will probably never be able to do as well as we could, but we have forgotten how to do them....

microdot said...

Steve...me too....I have a neighbor who is building a huge reflecting telescope using oak beams and mirrors...It is darker in his valley than here on my hilltop.