Light Pollution

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Science  30 Mar 1973:
Vol. 179, Issue 4080, pp. 1285-1291
DOI: 10.1126/science.179.4080.1285


There have been major qualitative and quantitative changes in outdoor lighting technology in the last decade. The level of skylight caused by outdoor lighting systems is growing at a very high rate, about 20 percent per year nationwide. In addition, the spectral distribution of man-made light pollution may change in the next decade from one containing a few mercury lines to one containing dozens of lines and a significantly increased continuum level. Light pollution is presently damaging to some astronomical programs, and it is likely to become a major factor limiting progress in the next decade. Suitable sites in the United States for new dark sky observing facilities are very difficult to find.

Some of the increase in outdoor illumination is due to the character of national growth and development. Some is due to promotional campaigns, in which questionable arguments involving public safety are presented. There are protective measures which might be adopted by the government; these would significantly aid observational astronomy, without compromising the legitimate outdoor lighting needs of society. Observatories should establish programs to routinely monitor sky brightness as a function of position, wavelength, and time. The astronomical community should establish a mechanism by which such programs can be supported and coordinated.