Light Pollution

Light pollution from improper outdoor lighting wastes billions of dollars and vast quantities of natural resources annually. Starry Night Lights is committed to fighting light pollution and restoring our heritage of star-filled skies. We offer the widest selection of night sky friendly outdoor lighting for your home or business.

Picture of the Day – Hubble Peers Deeply into the Eagle Nebula

Posted on December 6, 2010 by Noel

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The Hubble Space Telescope has once more turned its attention towards the magnificent Eagle Nebula (Messier 16). This picture shows the northwestern part of the region, well away from the centre, and features some very bright young stars that formed from the same cloud of material. These energetic toddlers are part of an open cluster and emit ultraviolet radiation that causes the surrounding nebula to glow.

The star cluster is very bright and was discovered in the mid-eighteenth century. The nebula, however, is much more elusive and it took almost a further two decades for it to be first noted by Charles Messier in 1764. Although it is commonly known as the Eagle Nebula, its official designation is Messier 16 and the cluster is also named NGC 6611. One spectacular area of the nebula (outside the field of view) has been nicknamed “The Pillars of Creation” ever since the Hubble Space Telescope captured an iconic image of dramatic pillars of star-forming gas and dust.

The cluster and nebula are fascinating targets for small and medium-sized telescopes, particularly from a dark site free from light pollution. Messier 16 can be found within the constellation of Serpens Cauda (the Tail of the Serpent), which is sandwiched between Aquila, Sagittarius, and Ophiuchus in the heart of one of the brightest parts of the Milky Way. Small telescopes with low power are useful for observing large, but faint, swathes of the nebula, whereas 30 cm telescopes and larger may reveal the dark pillars under good conditions. But a space telescope in orbit around the Earth, like Hubble — which boasts a 2.4-metre diameter mirror and state-of-the-art instruments — is required for an image as spectacular as this one.

This picture was created from images taken with the Wide Field Channel of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images through a near-infrared filter (F775W) are coloured red and images through a blue filter (F475W) are blue. The exposures times were one hour and 54 minutes respectively and the field of view is about 3.3 arcminutes across.”

That one’s a real beauty.

Imagine, being able to see such an astronomical wonder from the comfort of your own home. In remaining areas around the world, such an activity is a leisurely one, where one can simply look outside and see such cosmic comfort. Such a reality existed before the proliferation of streetlights across the globe. That in itself is not a bad thing, although the principles guiding the direction of the light warrant scrutiny. Why? The lack of proper shielding creates light pollution. An otherwise preventable form of pollution, light pollution continues to pollute our night skies around the globe. We have the technology and the knowledge to eradicate it, but yet we continue to lollygag around the issue:

Really, how important is light pollution?
Do we lack the finances to support such a retrofit?
What about our safety?

Here’s the skinny: light pollution is important. It’s detrimental to humans and animals alike, causing negative cognitive, diet and behavioral changes. Retrofitting existing lights posses a large initial cost, although over time it would not only pay for itself but actually pay you. Studies have shown that more light is not corollary to a reduction in crime. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and actually encourages crime. Since proper shielding concentrates and directs the light downward, there’s no need for additional light fixtures. Less light fixtures equals less electricity, which equals more savings.

So, there’s really no excuse as to why we haven’t done anything about light pollution. It’s an easy fix, compared to other global environmental problems. Let’s nip it in the butt and

Let there be night!

Mono Lake: a view of life…on Earth and beyond

Posted on December 3, 2010 by Noel

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“Biochemist Felisa Wolfe-Simon didn’t know exactly what she would find when she led an expedition to Mono Lake, a body of water near Yosemite National Park that is rich in arsenic that leaches from nearby rocks.

A NASA astrobiology research fellow studying the evolution of life on Earth, she suspected that there might be an organism somewhere that could use arsenic instead of phosphorus in its cells — and it made sense that such a critter might be found in Mono Lake. Still, she was surprised to discover that the Mono Lake mud she carried back to the laboratory contained a microbe that seemed capable of the arsenic-phosphorus substitution.

Before this finding, reported online Thursday in the journal Science, scientists had believed that all life on Earth required phosphorus to thrive — and they assumed that life in outer space might need the element, as well.

Now, some say, they may have to adjust that thinking, and change the scope of their searches for life beyond Earth.

Incidentally, early reports about the Mono Lake microbe also set off a frenzy on the Web, where some speculated that NASA was poised to announce it had uncovered extraterrestrial life.”

Life exists outside the big six (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus) building blocks of life, for an arsenic life form has been discovered in Mono Lake, California. Arsenic, even in minute amounts, causes organic tissue failure in nearly all life forms, due to its highly toxic nature. Yet this life form in Mono Lake utilizes arsenic as part of its cellular structure. This is such a monumental discovery, as it crushes the preconceived notion of what constitutes the building blocks of life. To think, we’d find our first alien, here, on terrestrial Earth. Suddenly, our place in the universe became significantly smaller, as well as opening up nearly endless possibilities to finding other carbon and non carbon-based extraterrestrial life forms.

Let there be night!

The Geminids Meteor Shower is Coming

Posted on December 2, 2010 by Noel

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“The Geminid meteor shower is an annual meteor shower that is extremely regular in its timing and can potentially be visible for days in the December sky, depending on weather and location.
Named after the constellation Gemini, because the meteor shower appears to originate from the area of that constellation, you can view the spectacular light show looking straight up in the night sky.

The Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak on the nights of December 13 and 14, with a predicted peak just after midnight on December 14 on the US East Coast.

In North America, Canada and US East Coast residents will have the best viewing that night into the wee hours on the 14th, but as Geminids are a “long tail” event, expect additional views that are still impressive several days or nights after the peak.

The Geminids have grown more spectacular in the recent past and this year is no exception. Even with a quarter moon providing less than optimum viewing in 2011, watch for a clear view (weather depending) of up to 140 meteors an hour at its peak.

The best place to observe the Geminid meteor shower (or any meteor shower for that matter), is somewhere dark, away from light pollution, and with the moon out of the field of vision. The less light visible, the more brilliant the meteor shower will be.

Amateur astronomers might want to carry along a pair of binoculars or a camera with a telescopic lens. Even on clear nights, some kind of viewing aid may come in handy for catching sight of even the faintest of falling stars, aptly named “telescopic” meteors. On super clear nights, experts advise to forget the telescope and simply … look up!

For photographing the annual event, a digital camera mounted on a tripod helps to steady the images that swiftly move across the sky. A quick trigger finger also helps, but even random clicks during the height of Geminid “prime-time” will also guarantee that you’ll catch something. Be sure to have the camera focused on infinity and, if your camera permits, leave the shutter open for several minutes for the most spectacular photographic effects.”

This should be a spectacular event for all ages to enjoy. Grab a chair, a blanket, a warm beverage and a pair of eager eyes, to see one of the many natural phenomenons from space.

Let there be night!

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