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Star-hazing

Christine Ina Casillas
The Wal-Mart Supercenter, along with The Home Depot, are the anchor stores at the Village at Avon.
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When the lights went out in New York City in early August in the largest-ever blackout in the U.S., many people said it was the first time they could see stars at night.

For Avon resident Tony D’Agostino, the first time he saw the stars at night was when he went on vacation in Wyoming as a child.

D’Agostino grew up in Houston, but, he said, he’s always been interested in stargazing – whenever he could see constellations in the city’s night sky.

“We don’t know what’s out there, and that’s what makes stargazing so intriguing,” D’Agostino said. “The first time away from the city, I could see hundred and thousands of stars. It was so nice to be able to look up and see the Milky Way.”

But stargazers like D’Agostino are finding it more difficult to spot objects in the sky because of increasing light pollution. The stars are disappearing and the sky is becoming washed out. Others in the valley have also noticed the problem.

“Access to the night sky is part of our Western heritage,” said Brian Sipes, Avon Town councilman. “It’s part of our common assets and resources.”

Sipes grew up in suburban St. Louis, Mo., where he said the night sky was never as clear as Colorado.

“We could still see the sky, but we never had a great sky – never as good as here,” Sipes said. “It’s something we have here that we want to keep and maintain.

“But we’re not immune to the fact that Avon has done some bad lighting,” he added. “And we’re trying to maintain the beauty of the night sky we all moved here for.”

Disappearing night

Avon Town officials are looking at ways of fighting light pollution.

“It’s only going to get worse when the Village at Avon gets built,” Avon Mayor Buz Reynolds said. “The commercial areas are starting to get developed and it’s increasing the light pollution.”

Inspired by both the commercial development in town and an organization known as the International Dark-Sky Association, Avon is looking at proposing new standards and regulations for outside lighting, but no decisions have been made.

One solution Avon might consider is to regulate lights at stores after-hours. Some stores’ lights are left on all night while other businesses stay open 24 hours per day.

“We could have the store signs turning off after an hour after closing,” Avon town councilman Ron Wolfe suggested.

Sipes said he’s just glad that the town is starting to research the problem while Reynolds says cutting lights would also save electricity.

“The 40-foot lights at the roundabouts … the amount of energy used for those lights is tremendous,” Reynolds said.

Quality lighting

The International Dark-Sky Association, formed in 1998, aims to build awareness about light pollution, formulate solutions and educate people about the value and effectiveness of quality nighttime lighting.

The association also brings attention to problems affecting astronomy, such as radio frequency interference, space debris and other environmental impacts.

The association wants to regulate what it calls “light trespassing” as well as light pollution. Light trespass is light that is distributed where it is not wanted or needed and it occurs when light shines beyond the intended target and onto adjacent properties.

Because lighting can affect the astronomy community, some forms of lighting are better than others for astronomers, council members said.

“Glare is bad,” Sipes said.

Glare also is a nighttime lighting hazard and might be the biggest problem caused by a light source, according to the International Dark-Sky Association’s Web site.

“I think a lot of people are misguided about lighting,” Sipes said. “A lot of people see lighting as a security measure, but that’s not always the case.”

While there is no evidence that lighting provides security, Sipes said crime does go up because of the glare.

“it’s the same as sitting around a camp fire,” he said. “You can see a lot better with a lantern than the camp fire. With a camp fire, you can’t see outside that bubble. A lantern is better at seeing things at a distance.

“Varying levels of lights causes glare,” he added. “It’s the same as in the road, when you’re driving into the sun.”

Too bright?

Businesses get the misconception that lighting – a lot of lighting – brings in more customers and more competition.

“All of us lose, then,” Sipes said.

Glare injures the eye if the lighting is too bright, officials said. Some lights are so bright under canopies of buildings that the eyes cannot adapt fast enough.

If people are being exposed to lights at a gas station for 15 minutes, it might take five to 10 minutes for the eyes to readjust to the road, officials said.

“We’re letting people know that we’re not trying to make things unsafe but that glare is bad,” Sipes said.

Despite the problems, in certain parts of Avon, the lighting is dark enough for stargazers to enjoy the sky, D’Agostino said.

“You can definitely see the stars better in Avon than in a big city,” he said. “But my fascination with the stars will go on. The night sky is infinite.”

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at ccasillas@vaildaily.com.


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