Searching the Sky: Glaring city lights put stars out of sight

David Baumgartner writes about light pollution and how it affects stargazing.

This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

Back when I was a young tot the wonders of the heavens, the glorious Milky Way and the beautiful dark skies were only as far away as my back door on the corner of Washington and Hawkins streets right here in Hollister. Well, not anymore, our home is not even there now.

Things evidently have changed. What has changed? The wonders of the heavens are still up there. The glorious Milky Way is still glowing. The problem is, we just can’t view them from our city anymore. And why is that? Lights, lights and more lights. For some reason we just can’t seem to get enough lights. We have lights to see where we are going and looking, and lights, for some unknown reason, to light up the sky as well.

I’m not suggesting that night lighting is not needed. But just look around, we see waste lighting everywhere. Parking lots without any cars in them are flooded all night. Security lights pour into neighbor’s windows rather than over the target area. PG&E has recently change out the old street lights and installed a newer lighting system that is working out quite well. Most lighting output spreads horizontally, reaching only the eyes of distant drivers and any onlookers out of the intended lighted area.

This doesn’t just pertain to streetlights, downtown businesses, and billboards signs, but this also means you and your home. Do your fixtures shine light into your neighbor’s window and toward the sky, or do they send all their light onto the ground where it is intended to go? Can you see the bare bulbs from a distance, or are they shielded? Do you illuminate your house when no one is awake to admire it?

Reducing the glare from your home’s exterior lighting is a common-sense courtesy to your neighbors, who, like yourself, have every right to a dark bedroom at night.

If you want to see an example of this over lighting effect for yourself, just go to the top of Fremont Peak and look west, and then look south. What are those large billows of yellow lights? And where are they coming from? Well, looking west is the city of Salinas; they could sure use a light ordinance there. But most of that light is coming from the new businesses and car dealerships trying to let the world know, as well as other worlds it seems, that here we are. Little do they know that they could provide even better and more economical lighting with a proper lighting system.

And now looking south, why there is another even more glamorous glow coming from the Soledad prison. I guess they want to stop any prisoners from escaping straight up and out. Once again, a better lighting system is in order here. It could save the taxpayers a considerable amount of money each and every year. And then maybe when we go to the peak to observe the heavens we can do just that, observe the heavens, and not lights preventing us from doing so.

At the request of many astronomers, a few cities—notably Tucson, Arizona, and San Diego, California—have passed special ordinances that require all outdoor lighting to be efficient. Light fixtures are designed to aim down to light up the street, sidewalk, and other targets and not the sky.

But lets give some credit where it is deserved, and that is to our own San Benito County for enacting their own dark sky ordinance. I was very pleased, along with many others I’m sure, to see our own county step forward to make sure that we do all we can to, at
least, try to preserve some of the heavens for our own children in the future. Now we need to work on our city leaders to stop the large glow about Hollister. It is my understanding that the city, even without a dark sky ordinance of their own, has been following the guidelines of the county ordinance. That may have changed; the city of Hollister may have enacted their own ordinance by now. I have been trying for the last week to get in touch with the planning department with not much luck. I’m sure all of the city offices are bogged down working out of their homes and don’t need me taking up their time on this subject. But we can’t give up, they will hear from others and myself on this subject as soon as life calms down.

Most people are against change of any kind, whether it is for the good or bad. A new ordinance in our city most likely would not make it mandatory for everyone to have to change existing lighting, but would only pertain to new construction and upgrades. If all this was accomplished our dark skies might not come back they way it used to be on the corner of Washington and Hawkins Street, but at least it wouldn’t get any worse.

With everything going on in our world today, we all need to do the right things to keep us all safe. Stay home, wash your hands often and keep them to yourself. Take care of yourself and your close ones. We will get through this.

Clear skies.

May events:

5/5: Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks

5/5: Moon is closest to Earth (perigee 223,478 miles)

5/7: Full Moon

5/11: Moon passes 3° south of Saturn at 11 a.m.

5/12: Moon passes 2° south of Jupiter at 3 a.m.

5/14: Moon at last quarter

5/14: Moon passes 3° south of Mars


David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. Collage (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Guesta, Collages, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonvile, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate Licence in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. Now in December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. Non the less, I am retired, at 77 years of age I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.