Column

Searching the Sky: Reducing light pollution to make stars more visible

David Baumgartner advocates for efficient use of lighting and requests help finding Draco, the 'dragon.'

This column was provided by San Benito County resident and amateur astronomer David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

Daddy, what stars? Where?

Oh they are still there, children. We just can’t see them very well because bright lights out there make it so hard to see them anymore. 

Of course today if you want to check out the heavens all you have to do is turn on the TV, your tablet, or phone and get what you want. But is that the same experience as being out under the stars, seeing the real thing? I don’t think so. I know so. 

When I was a young tot the wonders of the heavens, the glorious Milky Way and the beautiful dark skies were as far away as my backyard on the corner of Washington and Hawkins streets in Hollister. 

Well, not anymore. 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 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 of those 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 wasted lighting everywhere. Parking lots without any cars in them are flooded all night. Security lights pour into neighbor’s windows rather than over the targeted area. I must say though, PG&E has taken the plunge and replaced the outdated incandescent streetlights that were so inefficient that as much as 30%, or more, of their output spreads horizontally, reaching only the eyes of distant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 also to 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 just to have onlookers 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, as you deserve a safe and properly lit backyard. 

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 surely 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 they are there. 

And now looking south, 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. A better lighting system is in order here. It could save the taxpayers a considerable amount of money each year. And then maybe when we go to the peak to observe the heavens we can do just that, observe the heavens, and not have lights preventing us from doing so. 

At the request of many astronomers a few cities, notably Tucson, Arizona, and San Diego, 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 let’s 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. 

Soon after the county installed its ordinance, a number of us want-to-be astronomers along with other concerned residents worked together to help and encourage the city of Hollister to install their own Dark Sky Ordinance. This ordinance closely followed the same plan as the County Ordinance. Way to step up to the astronomical plate, county and city.

A new ordinance in our city would not make it mandatory for everyone to have to change existing lighting, but would only pertain to new construction and upgrades. The more difficult challenge is trying to convince others with old lighting methods not affected by the new ordinance to step up to the plate and upgrade their lighting system. This upgrade will take time and money to accomplish. So I can understand why most residents would be reluctant. Maybe the answer is to do a little at a time, or one day at a time, however that saying goes, and we can rid our county/city of much of our unwanted, unneeded, expensive and excessive glowing lights. 

If all this was accomplished our dark skies might not come back the way it used to be in the 50s on the corner of Washington and Hawkins streets, but at least it wouldn’t get any worse. Just a thought. Lights out, everyone.

 

Clear and Dark Skies…

 

Constellation of the month: Draco, the “dragon”

I believe Draco, the “dragon,” could be one of the least known constellations in the sky, though it could be one of the most stretched out and area-covering figures up there. And as far as looking anything like its namesake, in some ways it does, a long trail of stars leading to a square head. Some of the constellations do look somewhat like their given names, such as; Leo the Lion, Scorpius the Scorpion, and Cygnus the Swan. Now that I think of it; I’m not sure if I have ever picked out Draco in the night sky. And yet here I am writing about it. Well, maybe one of my five to 10 readers out there can show me the way. Never too old to learn.

 

What’s up this month?

Aug. 04 – Mercury passes 0.7° north of Regulus

Aug. 05 – First Quarter Moon

Aug. 07 – Venus passes 7° south of Pollux

Aug. 10 – Moon isat perigee (223,587 miles from Earth)

Aug. 11 – Full Moon

Aug. 11 – Moon passes 4° south of Saturn

Aug. 12 – Perseid meteor shower peaks

Aug. 14 – Moon passes 3° south of Neptune

Aug. 15 – Moon passes 1.9° south of Jupiter

Aug. 18 – Moon passes 0.6° north of Uranus

Aug. 19 – Last Quarter Moon

Aug. 19 – Moon passed 3° north of Mars

Aug. 22 – Moon is at apogee (251,915 miles from Earth)

Aug. 25 – Moon passes 0.7° south of Venus

Aug. 27 – New Moon

Aug. 29 – Moon passes 7° north of Mercury

 

David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. College (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, Questa, Colleges, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonville, 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 License 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. In December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. None the less, I am retired and 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.