26 September 2023

Astronomy students go for light in the dark

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A team of astronomy students from the University of South Australia (UniSA) spent last weekend in the Flinders Ranges, taking advantage of the pristine and clear skies of regional South Australia to put their skills to the test viewing and identifying constellations visible from sunset to sunrise.

Led by UniSA astronomer and presenter, Mary Adam, the Constellations of The Night Sky students need to leave the city to find a slice of the sky dark enough for them to see the stars they’re learning how to study.

According to Ms Adam, as Australia’s cities continue to expand, the challenge of finding a sky dark enough to see the stars is becoming more and more difficult.

While the weekend trip afforded the group an unblemished view of the stars, Ms Adam said she was concerned about the growing rate of light pollution.

“For years astronomers have been aware of the impact of light pollution on the night-time environment (and) as our cities grow, so too does light pollution in the night sky,” Ms Adam said.

“The main culprit of light pollution is street lighting, where 90 per cent of light ends up in the sky, not on the ground,” she said.

She said the lights at night that escape upward and sideways create glare, light trespass, and sky glow.

“This creates a perpetual twilight glow in the sky that washes out the wonder of the stars and the Milky Way,” Ms Adam said.

“We are losing the dark at an alarming rate.

“As Adelaide grows, so does the light pollution.”

She said that not only are the star viewers affected by the trouble it also impacts on wildlife.

“It’s now not uncommon to hear birds singing at night,” Ms Adam said, “they still think it’s dusk.”

“Less than 100 years ago, people looked up at the night sky and saw a blanket of twinkling stars. Today, that has drastically changed,” she said.

“100 years from now, people will be lucky to spot even a few stars.”

Ms Adam said that unless the world starts to adopt strategies to reduce light pollution such as replacing old streetlights with simple shielded lighting that is directed downwards, stars may soon be invisible to city and suburban dwellers.

“In countries like Japan and China where there is an enormous amount of artificial light polluting the night skies of major cities, many people will live their whole lives without seeing a single star,” she said.

“We are unfortunately heading the same way.”

Information about the extent of the problem, and what is being done to overcome it can be accessed at this PS News link.

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