President’s message – March 2003
Posted On March 1, 2003
by Barbara Toy
This last month has seen some sad changes in the astronomical world. Nationally, the disintegration of the Columbia as it reentered the atmosphere and the deaths of its crew have had a devastating impact on the space program as well as on the families, friends and colleagues of the astronauts. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the families and all those who knew the crew members for their loss. We can only hope that the cause of the disaster will be found quickly, and that the remaining shuttles will made safer as a result.
We had a sad loss closer to home, with the death of Bill Kuhn, who designed and built the Kuhn telescope with the help of other club members. Though I never met him in person, I've heard stories about him ever since joining the club, and I heard even more on the day of his funeral. He was an inventor, and, among other things, developed a field shunt in World War II to hold veins and arteries together when they were severed, which saved many lives and even more limbs. He was an avid amateur astronomer who insisted on showing his children the delights of the night skies, whether they wanted to see them or not (they are now glad he did), and who used his hand-built telescope to show the sky and its treasures to a multitude of young people over the years. He loved to solve problems and he loved to build things, and we in the club have certainly benefited from his skills. We hoped that he would recover from the stroke he suffered a few months ago, and could join us in celebrating the refurbishment of the Kuhn telescope. That's no longer possible, but we look forward to hosting members of his family at Anza and letting them see the telescope that bears his name in action.
Looking to the future - a call to action:
With these and other reminders of how limited our time might be, it seems to me that there is no better time to launch a campaign in an area that we all, at some level, agree is important, but that we have not yet done much about - light pollution. The "other reminders" include the massive development going forward right now in Telaga Ranch, the proposal to build 25,000 homes in Rancho Mission Viejo, and the continuing development of the Temecula area. If we do nothing, the comparatively dark skies over the Santa Ana Mountains, including our Black Star Canyon site and Caspers Wilderness Park, will be about as bright as they are in urban Orange County, and we will see growing light domes and increasing local lights encroaching on our Anza site.
What can we do?
1] Developers: We can talk to their design people before they've made commitments on specific light fixtures, show them good lighting alternatives. It often won't cost any more to put in full or partial cut-off lights if they make that decision early, and it would allow them to advertise the development as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. Developers also establish the basic CC&R's for their developments, and could include provisions controlling outside lighting for the entire development - Coto de Caza has a very strict provision, and has much darker skies than neighboring communities as a result. So, we need people to identify and work with developers in Orange County and the Temecula area to improve the outside lights they are going to install and to get limits on excessive outside lights included in the CC&R's for new developments.
2] Local governments: We have members in every city and in unincorporated areas of Orange County, and some in the Temecula area, as well. We need to find out what ordinances each local government has relating to outside lighting (many have none). We need to identify which people in each local government could be allies in getting helpful ordinances passed, and start work to get them passed. Where ordinances have been enacted, we need to find out what's happening with enforcement. Cities replace streetlights regularly, and we can pressure them to replace them with full cut-off alternatives. We could also pressure them not to approve streetlights in new developments that are not full cut-off, and not to approve excessive numbers of streetlights. We need people to do the legwork in their own cities and start to work with their own local governments in these areas.
3] Liaisons with other groups: We're mainly concerned about light pollution because it gets in the way of our seeing the sky and what's in it. There are other good reasons to be concerned, though, such as the effects on migratory birds and nocturnal animals, undue destruction of certain insects causing problems for bats and other insectivores, and even human health concerns. The wider impact of light pollution means that there are groups, such as the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy, that could be our allies on lighting issues. There are also other astronomy clubs in Orange County and in the Temecula/Elsinore area who could be our allies in this campaign. We need people to start building bridges to these groups.
4] Shields and adaptors for existing light fixtures: The IDA website (http://www.darksky.org/~ida/) is a treasure-trove of information, and has links to several different types of shields that can be added to some of the most common types of outside fixtures to improve them. However, there are no commercially available shields for most styles of outside lights, nor any designs for do-it-yourself types. We have a lot of people in the club with skills that could be turned to designing and building shields for many other types of lights, to give people who like the style of their current fixtures an option to entirely replacing them. We could also build a fund to get commercially available shields and provide them free to people in sensitive areas who would agree to use them (and we could do the installation, to ensure they actually did use them) - it would be really nice to get them installed on a lot of the properties in the area of our Anza site. We need people who could design, build, and/or install shields, people who could convince folks with bad outside lights to get shields or to allow us to install shields on their fixtures (or even to replace their lights with better models), or who could help raise funds for a shield-installation program.
You may be thinking that all of this is too ambitious. It's certainly more than one person can do alone, and more than a small group of people could do unless they did it full-time. But we have over 800 members in our club, with the majority in Orange County. If every one of you in Orange County or the Temecula/Elsinore area spends just a couple of hours per month on one of these projects, we would make tremendous progress.
So, what do I want you to do? Contact me about which one of these areas you want to work in, and what particular activities you want to do most, and let's get started. The easiest way for me is by email, to firstname.lastname@example.org. You could also send me a note by snail mail, to Orange County Astronomers, P.O. Box 1762, Costa Mesa, CA 92628. You could call or talk to me when you see me, but, unfortunately, memories are less reliable than something in writing. My intent is to get people who want to work on the same aspects of the problem together and to help get them going on their particular projects, helping in whatever way I can, and coordinating activities between groups.
We can have darker skies, with your help. I look forward to hearing from you.