Light pollution awareness has county implementing controls for public lighting.
School children burst into a roar of "ooohs" and "aaahs" when the lights were turned off at Jacksonville's Museum of Science and History and thousands of stars twinkled before them.
They pointed to Orion and his bow and arrow; the hazy mass that make up the Milky Way; and yes, even the Big Dipper.
|Members of The Northeast Florida Astronomical Society, set up to view the stars on River Road Wednesday evening. The time exposure shows the light that is spread by street lights, light that makes it difficult to enjoy the firmament. |
DON BURK/The Times-Union
The sight is what the naked eye would see if all the city lights in downtown Jacksonville were turned off, said Brett Jacobs, educator at the museum's planet arium. Because of light pollution, Jacobs told the school groups on a recent afternoon, the night sky is losing its natural glow in cities across the country.
Stargazers in downtown Jacksonville will see far fewer stars because glare from streetlights, porch lights and other artificial lights tends to scatter rays skyward and block the visibility of thousands of stars, Jacobs said.
Awareness of the problem has caught on, though. Cities and counties across the country have adopted regulations to curb light pollution, from installing special fixtures on city streetlights so they shine downward, to dimming lights in the parking lots of suburban shopping centers.
Clay County is the latest in Northeast Florida to consider such efforts. The relatively new movement to save the view of the dark sky arose in the late '80s at the urging of astronomers and star gazers.
"It's a progressive move," said county Planning Director Thad Crowe. "As the area grows, you're just going to see more and more lights in parking lots and streets -- it all adds up.
"Every kid should be able to enjoy the stars."
For Clay's newest developments, those in the Branan Field area, hooded light fixtures will be required on commercial and light industrial spaces, as well as streetlights in subdivisions. Illumination levels will have to be reduced at the property line.
The ordinance would be loosely modeled on one that Orange County adopted last year, Crowe said.
In June, the county commission there passed new standards regulating the brightness of outdoor lights, the height of light poles and the types of light fixtures. New businesses also had to be equipped with timers that automatically dim outdoor lights before closing.
Not everyone is happy to see lights grow dim, however. Opponents have complained that efforts are unnecessarily restrictive and potentially dangerous. Unlike air and water pollution, light pollution does not generally harm the health of people
In Jacksonville, where there are no efforts to cut down on light pollution, a recent survey says residents actually want the city to brighten the lights.
It is unknown exactly how effective efforts to fight light pollution are, but an Ari- zona-based non-profit organ- ization committed to preserv- ing visibility in the sky at night says any attempt is better than no attempt.
"Again, it goes back to education," said David Crawford, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association. "Once they get the idea that good lighting actually helps, our children and grandchildren will at least have a greater chance to see all our stars."
Crawford said light-poll- ution awareness also could help prevent the disruption of wildlife.
In Florida, major beach communities -- such as Jack- sonville Beach and Neptune Beach -- have adopted ordinances regulating out- door lighting during sea turtle nesting season. Environ- mentalists say bright lights tend to discourage females from coming ashore to nest. Artificial light can prevent newly hatched turtles from getting to the ocean.
Still, some say the issue of light pollution is little heard of and little addressed.
"A lot of people don't think of light pollution," said Michael Ramirez, vice president of the Northeast Florida Astronomical Society.
On clear nights, Ramirez, who lives on Jacksonville's Southside, and his group of amateur astronomers venture to the Osceola National Forest to sky watch. It's the closest one can get to a dark sky, where hundreds more stars can be seen with the naked eye.
"People don't take advant- age of sitting on a lawn chair and looking up and seeing the beauty."
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