“In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum (born 1937) is a Senegalese forestry engineer.
We celebrate International Dark Sky Week on April 15-22. Our starry skies are one more thing that makes the Driftless Area special. As I visit the small towns of our region, I watch for what makes them welcoming. Because I stargaze, I definitely notice the lighting being used and how well shielded they are. I also notice how lighting can enhance a town and create a mood. And I think of the good work being done by lighting designers at American Players Theatre and other venues. At the end of a play or concert, we never clap for the lighting designer. But their work was a big part of the experience even when its effect was mostly subliminal. Lights that are excessive or too harsh or cause glare or trespass on homes make us want to leave. Lights that are appropriate and warmer and well shielded invite us to linger. It’s the gap between very bright and very dark areas that frightens us and makes it harder to see at night. As communities transition to LED lighting, we have a once in a generation opportunity to create welcoming lightscapes. Unlike other changes, good lighting is relatively easy and inexpensive. New technology makes it possible to light our streets and sidewalks to keep us safe without shining into our homes or up into the sky.
Beyond creating a warm and welcoming ambiance, smart lighting reduces energy consumption, respects the ecosystem and wildlife, safeguards human health, promotes safety, and preserves the heritage of starry skies. The Illuminating Engineering Society and International Dark-Skies Association have come up with Five Principles for Responsible Outdoor Lighting to enhance our quality of life:
Useful–All light should have a clear purpose. Before installing or replacing a light, determine if light is needed. Consider how the use of light will impact the area, including wildlife and the environment.
Targeted–Light should be directed only to where needed. Use shielding and careful aiming to target the direction of the light beam so that it points downward and does not spill beyond where it is needed.
Low Light Levels--Light should be no brighter than necessary.
Controlled–Light should be used only when it is useful. Use controls such as timers or motion detectors to ensure that light is available when it is needed, dimmed when possible, and turned off when not needed.
Color–Use warmer color lights where possible. Choose bulbs that are marked 2700 Kelvin or lower to limit the amount of shorter wavelength (blue-violet) light.
I encourage you to visit Kickapoo Valley Reserve and Wildcat Mountain State Park. As they seek designation as Wisconsin’s next International Dark Sky Park along with Tunnelville Cliffs, they have made significant improvements to their outdoor lighting. Their new smart lighting makes it much easier to enjoy the stars. KVR is celebrating Earth Day on April 22 with a Froggy Starry Twilight Walk. Starsplitters of Wyalusing is having an activity night for members and the local community on April 20. And there’s always great skywatching along the Lower WI State Riverway.
Explore darksky.org for more resources to make it simple to conserve the night. And visit lightpollutionmap.info to view your community from space. Choose enough light to find your way at night, but not so much as to be visible from low Earth orbit!
John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador , with the International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate, and the International Astronomical Union as a Dark Sky Ambassador. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies.
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