Light Pollution

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Who Teaches the Teachers?

Posted on October 4, 2010 by Noel

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“The BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona is helping K-12 science teachers keep up with the pace of research and innovation. affects not only our ability to see the stars, but also safety, energy conservation, cost, health and wildlife, said Connie Walker, an associate scientist with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, who led a workshop.

“The students now are leaders of tomorrow,” said Walker. “A lot of this is just ways to teach the kids to be stewards of the Earth.”

The hands-on activities teach students about the different types, sources and affects of light pollution as well as ways to reduce its impact. A three-dimensional model of a street-way intersection allowed students to see how light pollution can be reduced by covering street lights and redirecting light down at the street, instead of up at the sky. Students could also calculate the energy saved by using different types of energy efficient light bulbs or by turning off unneeded lights at night.

One of the activities gives students an opportunity to measure the magnitude, or brightness, of stellar objects such as stars and planets by viewing them through holes in an index card covered with layers of ink jet transparencies. The transparencies are layered progressively so that five layers cover the first hole, while only one layer covers the last. Students learn that brighter objects have lower magnitudes, so if they can see a star through the first hole (and five layers of transparencies) then it has a magnitude of one.

The activity has ties to the GLOBE at Night program, a citizen-science campaign where every year volunteers from around the world measure the magnitude of some of the brightest stars at their location. The information is used to create annual maps of how light pollution is changing how people see the skies.

“Six out of every 10 Americans live in a place where they have never seen a dark sky,” said Walker. By the year 2025, she said, “the only place to see a truly dark sky will be the national parks.”

Another activity helps students to find and visualize the constellations. Glow-in-the-dark puffy paints are painted over a translucent plastic sheet to delineate the stars of a constellation, and to show the imaginary outline of the constellation surrounding the component stars. The stars are placed proportional distances to one another on the plastic, so that when students hold the sheet up to the sky, the lines will match up with the real stars. The glowing outline of the constellation helps kids to visualize and remember the constellations.

“This is great. This is giving us a lot of ideas,” said Amy Gosla, a science teacher at Painted Sky Elementary, about the symposium.

New ideas for the teachers correspond to new strategies at BIO5. This year was the first time the science teacher symposium was held in the fall, as opposed to at the end of the spring semester. It was hoped that the change in timing would give teachers an opportunity to put the ideas demonstrated at the symposium into practice during the upcoming school year. This year showed the greatest enrollment yet for the science teacher symposium.

At the end of the day, teachers left with standards-based lesson plans, classroom kits from the workshops, door prizes from BIO5, a wealth of new ideas for keeping kids involved and interested in science and plans to return next year.

The 2010 Arizona Science Teacher Symposium was funded by the BIO5 Institute and by contributions from Bio-Rad; The Legend Group, James Leos Financial Services; and Rosemont Copper.”

Let there be night!

Posted on October 1, 2010 by Noel

Zarmina’s World
Illustration Credit & Copyright: Lynette Cook

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2010 October 1
“Explanation: A mere 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra, red dwarf star Gliese 581 has received much scrutiny by astronomers in recent years. Earthbound telescopes had detected the signatures of multiple planets orbiting the cool sun, two at least close to the system’s habitable zone — the region where an Earth-like planet can have liquid water on its surface. Now a team headed by Steven Vogt (UCO Lick), and Paul Butler (DTM Carnagie Inst.) has announced the detection of another planet, this one squarely in the system’s habitable zone. Based on 11 years of data, their work offers a very compelling case for the first potentially habitable planet found around a very nearby star. Shown in this artist’s illustration of the inner part of the exoplanetary system, the planet is designated Gliese 581g, but Vogt’s more personal name is Zarmina’s World, after his wife. The best fit to the data indicates the planet has a circular 37 day orbit, an orbital radius of only 0.15 AU, and a mass 3.1 times the Earth’s. Modeling includes estimates of a planet radius of 1.5, and gravity at the planet’s surface of 1.1 to 1.7 in Earth units. Finding a habitable planet so close by suggests there are many others in our Milky Way galaxy.”

Let there be night!


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