Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2000 15:20:39 -0400

Subject: Astronomers sound wake-up call on light and radio pollution
Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2000 13:55:27 GMT
From: Andrew Yee 
Organization: UTCC Campus Access

7 - 18 August 2000

Media release

>From Jacqueline Mitton (Meeting Press Officer)
phone: +44 (0)1223 564914

Phone contact 7 - 16 August [Meeting Press Room]
+44 (0)161 275 7832
+44 (0)161 275 9458
+44 (0)161 275 9499

Mobile phone 07770 386133

Date released: 16 August 2000

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dr Malcolm G. Smith,
Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory, Chile
Phone (after 21st August): +56 51 205 217 FAX +56 51 205212

Dr John Mason, UK Campaign for Dark Skies
Phone (mobile): 07901 890061

Dr Jim Cohen, Jodrell Bank Observatory
Phone +44 (0)1477 571321
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Mankind will lose its view of the stars altogether -- unless we learn very soon to shine
our light onto the ground, where we need, instead of into the night sky.

Astronomers at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly in Manchester 
(UK) have sounded a wake-up call for everyone on the planet Earth.

In 1999, the IAU held a Symposium on 'Preserving the Astronomical Sky', which was organized jointly with the Committee on Space Research
(COSPAR) and the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs in parallel with the UN 
conference UNISPACE III in Vienna. The ongoing urgency for action was re-inforced in 
Manchester this week.

'Light pollution' affects everyone, not just professional observatories. An average person 
in the countryside away from city lights can see several thousand stars in the sky. Bit 
by bit, Europe is losing this view of the heavens as we add more and lamps, and waste 
energy by sending the light uselessly into the sky. Thousands of millions of pounds worth 
of energy are tossed upwards into the European sky each year -- instead of down onto the 
ground which we want to illuminate.

Dr Malcolm Smith, Director of the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in Chile, issued 
this challenge. "Look around your city or town. See how many street lamps allow plenty of 
light to shine upwards. Count how many stars you can see. If you are old enough to remember how the sky looked
30 years ago, could you see the Milky Way then? Can you now?"

"Bit by bit, without realizing, we are all losing a direct connection with the universe" 
commented Dr Smith. "Not only that, light pollution is one of the most rapidly increasing 
alterations to the natural environment created by humans. Reported adverse effects of this 
fog of artificial light involve plants and animals as well as humankind. Human culture, 
from philosophy to religion, from art to literature and science, has always developed in 
relationship with the night sky and the universe beyond. Are we going to deprive future 
generations unnecessarily?"

Astronomer Pierantonio Cinzano from Padua, Italy and his colleagues have been using 
measurements from satellites looking down at the Earth and measure the light shining upwards 
from the world's towns and cities. Some of his maps showing the serious extent of light 
pollution can be found on his home page, at

Large areas in and near cities are already very seriously affected. Good lighting design 
can save a third or more of the cost of public lighting. Better lighting means less energy 
is needed and pollution from unnecessary power stations can be reduced.

Preserving Dark, Starlit Skies

There are still pristine, remote, dark-sky sites where astronomers construct huge telescopes 
to reach out to the edges of the universe. The most famous of these special sites are in 
Hawaii, Chile and the Canary Islands.

Even in these places, city lights can be seen. A great effort is being made to protect these 
sites and to avoid the situation that has already affected most of Europe by obtaining 
legislation to control the wastage of light from cities and towns near these special regions. 
Dr Smith spoke about the success in a town in Chile near the Cerro Tololo Observatory which 
is saving 40% of its former annual electricity bill, uses its starlit sky to attract amazed 
tourists from urban areas in Europe and the USA, and uses its Municipal Observatory to 
educate local school children in the need to preserve this natural treasure of mankind.

Radio interference problems too

Also at the meeting, radio astronomers discussed issues relating to the interference they 
encounter when using large radio telescopes. Mobile telephones, television, satellites and 
airport radars are all essential to modern life but they create a noisy radio environment 
that makes it very difficult to make sensitive astronomical measurements of quasars,
pulsars, black holes and the cosmic microwave background. As an example, the tiny amount of 
energy transmitted by a mobile phone could easily be picked up by the giant 250-foot radio 
dish at Jodrell Bank -- even if the phone were on Mars!

Radio astronomers are working with the regulatory authorities to reserve slices of the radio 
spectrum for receiving natural signals from the universe amid the cacophony of modern life. 
They are also seeking to establish 'international radio quiet zones', preserves with special
regulations rather like national parks. Such a zone might well be the site of a huge 
square-kilometre array of radio telescopes now being proposed by the world's radio astronomers.


Information and education on light pollution

Much of the energy wasted as light pollution is produced because people do not think about 
where the light goes when installing outside fixtures. To help explain more clearly the 
issues involved, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has set up an education working 

For more information, see this URL:

Andrew Yee