Posted by: sweeneyblog | February 16, 2014

The Stellar Junkie: Where Have All the Stars Gone?

Local astronomer Jeff Hoffmeister has volunteered to send us a few pieces when there is something truly unique and remarkable to observe in the night sky. So bundle up and gaze into the stars with the Stellar Junkie.

Jeff Hoffmeister

Jeff Hoffmeister is The Stellar Junkie

We all think about the effects of air pollution and water pollution but we seldom think of light pollution and its effects on our environment. It is estimated that at least one third of all light produced in the United States is wasted. This is at an annual cost of 30 million barrels of oil and 8.2 metric tons of coal, which equates to $2 billion dollars a year. That amount of oil alone puts 14.1 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

Light pollution is caused by excessive use of lighting which strays beyond its intended target or valued area. We have all seen city or neighborhood lighting that seems to want to bring daylight to the night.

This not only affects our sleeping habits but also affects nocturnal animals who can be confused as to whether it is day or night. Many lights shine not just downward, but upward and outward. You may think this is good, right? But as shown below, too much light can actually be harmful and the glare can hide things or people you need to see!

The dangers of light pollution

The dangers of light pollution

As an amateur astronomer, I also value the night sky.  In cities, one can only see about 6 stars, in the suburbs, 200 to 300, and in the countryside about 2,000.  My fellow astronomers and I are having more and more difficulty finding skies that are dark enough for us to view the amazing objects we can see with our telescopes.

Orion disappears

Orion disappears

To many, this may seem just a hobby, but there are many amateur astronomers helping professional astronomers in different ventures such as the search for Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs). In fact, a vast number of NEAs are found by amateur astronomers!  For us, the effect of light pollution is devastating. As you can see, even the great Orion can be washed out!

Below is a diagram of the best types of lighting for your home. When getting new lighting, please consider getting downward facing lights and remember that, even for a flag pole, there are lights that can be bought to face downward from the top of the pole.


Lighting makes the difference

Consider that you, as one person, can make a difference. Please spread the word and help protect our night sky!



  1. Would like to chat with you about night light and the lack of.

  2. Thank you for this post. It seems to me there is far too little thinking and writing about light pollution. The last one I remember reading is “Nights Out” by Merry Teesdale, published by Whatcom Watch in 2007. Highly recommended:

  3. This is a big issue, because it affects human health and animal migration patterns. It is really a problem for me in Silver Beach, where there has been a great deal of infill and all my neighbors keep floodlights on all night. The city needs to require that these lights be placed on motion detectors, where they can keeps us safe with less impact on the environment.

    • Wendy, the problem can’t be cured by placing motion detectors on the lights, which are usually inappropriately located in an attempt to light a wide area around the house with floodlights placed on the building and aimed outward, which results in unacceptable glare.

      The solution is better fixture choice and placement, resulting in less spill, less glare, and better light with lower power consumption.

      I think that’s just being neighborly.

  4. A couple of years ago, I was president of the board of a condominium association.

    The tract consists of thirty-two units in sixteen buildings. The entries to the units face the relatively complicated common drive, and the primary feature on each unit facing the drive is the garage door. The entry door is located either to the right or to the left of the garage door, but is relatively adjacent.

    Over time, unit owners had replaced the original fixtures with new ones, almost all with higher-wattage lamps in lantern-style fixtures. some of the fixtures were very bright CF lamps. One owner installed a sodium vapor wall-pak next to his garage door, a fixture that lighted nearly the whole know universe. Light pollution was almost everywhere, but you couldn’t see your way in to a unit because of the glare from the overly-bright fixtures.

    We replaced them all with downlights. We installed recessed downlights over the garage doors that washed the house numbers over the doors and lighted the path into the units. Now the path into the unit is lighted appropriately with downlights with minimal spill. In fact, there is almost no spill, other than that which is reflected from the building on to the path.

    The result is that you can see where you are, because the street address is illuminated with grazing light, which fall mostly in front of the garage doors and on to the path into the building.

    For some residents concerned about sufficient light, the association installed additional fixtures similarly designed and located to light the path.

    In the exterior fixtures that we installed, both CF lamps and LED lamps offer low energy-consumption alternatives to incandescent lamps. Over the garage doors, a nine-watt CF lamp is more than sufficient, and the same is true in the fixtures adjacent to entry doors.

    The nicest part of my story is that there is no longer any glare from bright fixtures near entries, and no broad-area floodlights.

    Instead, the downlights illuminate the path to the building more than adequately, and the low position of the lights casts shadows on the path to reduce tripping hazards resulting from irregularities in the path.

    Even if you don’t like the quality of CF light in your house, I think you’ll find it to be acceptable in an exterior fixture, especially if you consider the reduction in power consumption between a nine or eleven watt lamp and the equivalent 50-watt incandescent lamp.

    I’d be happy to show off our installation and to consult about fixture and lamp choices for other locations.

  5. Thanks for posting this, Riley. I posted a link on a private Lummi Island website. We’ve far too many needlessly glaring lights out here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: