Stars hard to find because of light pollution

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND --  Rooftops and tree silhouettes are visible from a Highland Road neighborhood while light pollution lightens a clear night sky in early February.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Rooftops and tree silhouettes are visible from a Highland Road neighborhood while light pollution lightens a clear night sky in early February.

Astronomers say it’s hard to find stars in BR’s night sky

A group of amateur astronomers said it’s getting harder each year to look up at Baton Rouge’s night sky and see the stars because light pollution from growth and development is blocking the view.

“Baton Rouge is continuing to grow and grow, and I know that’s a good thing, but the bigger we get, the harder it is to see the stars,” said Ben Toman, president of the Baton Rouge Astronomical Society.

Light pollution is defined by the International Dark Sky Association as any adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night and energy waste.

Light pollution is caused in large part by improper outdoor lighting design from street lights and commercial buildings, the association claims.

Toman said the problem is easily solved by businesses and government properly capping outside lighting so artificial illumination doesn’t reach places where it’s not needed.

Citing a street light as an example, those lights needs to be capped with a shield or shade that helps the light go down instead of up, Toman said.

“Instead of looking up and seeing white on black, we look up and see white on off black or white on gray or silver,” said Christopher Kersey, director of BREC’s Highland Road Park Observatory.

Ingolf Partenheimer, the city-parish’s chief traffic engineer, said he’s aware of light pollution problems in the area.

“We inherited an old system,” Partenheimer said.

Partenheimer said some street lights are capped with acorn-shaped caps, which can’t guard against up-lighting, while other city-parish lights are capped with cobra-shaped caps that keep a good amount of light from escaping upward.

Partenheimer said it’s possible to recap lights to stop all light from heading up, but the issue of light pollution has never been formally brought before city-parish officials.

“We can work with the astronomers who are having problems if they tell us the area where they need help,” Partenheimer said.

Toman said he hopes one day the city-parish will create a law that would force businesses to comply with anti-light pollution design for artificial lighting.

Partenheimer said a comprehensive ordinance in the future would go a long way toward eradicating the problem.

In the meantime, Toman’s group, which has 85 members, has ordered sky quality meters, electronic devices that can numerically measure the amount of sky glow in the air.

“We will be able to do regular readings in different parts of the community so we can gather evidence on how much light pollution we have,” Toman said.

The astronomy club also has created a recognition for local businesses called The BRAS Good Lighting Award. The award will be given to businesses and individuals that use lighting that doesn’t create a glare in the night sky.

The group’s first award was given to Bass Pro Shops in Denham Springs.

Toman said the lighting fixtures in use at Bass Pro on the building and in the parking lot show that no matter how large the business, the effect on the night sky can be minimal.