Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Thursday, September 29, 2005

It's Not Just a Candy Bar

Over Labor Day, my family went on vacation to rural Leamington, Utah, where I saw an awe-inspiring view of the Milky Way. The glow of countless unresolved stars in the plane of our galaxy can't be seen from most suburban and urban areas (including my backyard) because it is washed out by light pollution. After that trip, I wondered if I could see that view again without driving a 160-mile round trip.

Last Saturday, we visited my grandparents in Stansbury Park. As we were leaving, I glanced up to the sky to see how it looked compared to my hometown. At first I was disappointed, not seeing any more stars than I'm used to. But then I had the presence of mind to put something solid between myself and my grandfather's driveway floodlights.

Shaded by some large bushes, I looked up to the sky again, and as my eyes adapted to the darkness, I saw dozens of stars pop into view--followed by the Milky Way. I couldn't see the detail I saw in Leamington, but the glowing band was unmistakably there.

As we came around the mountain on Interstate 80, it was quite literally like night and day. I couldn't believe how bright the sky was over Salt Lake County. But I got to thinking, if the shadow of the Oquirrhs could allow me to see the Milky Way in Stansbury, maybe I could see it from Provo Canyon, just minutes from home.

Last night I went up into Provo Canyon, stopping at a view area for Bridal Veil Falls. Sure enough, I could see the Milky Way--better than in Stansbury, in fact. The sky toward the city was totally washed out:

...but when I looked away from the city, the sky was dark enough for nature's lights to shine:

Click the picture for a larger view. It doesn't look like much here, but my camera really isn't sensitive enough to pick up the Milky Way behind Cassiopeia. It was a splendid view. Don't take my word for it, though. Take some time on some clear, moonless night to get out of the city and look into the universe!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Orem City Maimed My Tree

The City of Orem sent some people to "trim" the tree in my front yard today... because it was blocking a streetlight. In my opinion, the shade from the leaves made the streetlight almost tolerable, but then, I've already shared my opinion about these garish fixtures.

My tree was there first... and Orem said they'd work around existing trees. (They also said they'd install dark-sky sensitive lighting, which they obviously didn't.)

So here's the damage:

Way to beautify the city, Councilmember Sandstrom.

Good thing the tree wasn't under a set of power lines. Utah Power mercilessly slaughtered many of my neighbors' trees that happened to be under some high tension lines--most of which were maybe 30 feet below the wires--and the employees were outright hostile to the affected homeowners. At least the Orem City employees were polite.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The old one-two

As I write this, the third-most powerful hurricane in recorded history is barreling toward Texas, taking aim at all the refineries that Katrina missed. Experts are predicting gasoline prices could jump to $4 to $5 per gallon by next week.

My take? Well, we've got to be weaned from fossil fuels somehow. I personally expected it to be a gradual process, but maybe being pummeled by hurricanes until the oil infrastructure is destroyed will be a more effective motivator for alternate energy sources. Or maybe this time next year we'll all be living in caves.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Garish (but Decorative) Streetlights

Light Pollution
Originally uploaded by jpstanley.
Here's a photo of one of these streetlights I've been complaining about.

Glare? Check.
Light trespass? Check.
Sky glow? Those power poles are 60 feet high. Check.

Although in hindsight I think my letter to the Mayor was worded rather harshly, I still stand by everything I said. These streetlights are about as awful a design as you could concoct. Gross negligence.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

UPDATE: Light Pollution in Orem, Utah

I'm a resident of Orem interested in both astronomy and photography. Over Labor Day weekend, my family went on vacation to the rural town of Leamington (near Delta), and while I was there I spent several hours enjoying night sky sights I can't see from home thanks to the light pollution.

I didn't realize just how bad it is here in Orem until I came back from vacation and looked up at the Summer Triangle, vividly remembering the spectacular light the of countless stars in the Milky Way I had seen there days earlier--and seeing only a handful of washed-out stars in their place.

Here is a pair of photos of the constellation Orion, taken with the same camera and exposure settings, that show just how bright the night sky is here in Orem (bottom) as compared to Leamington (top):

Leamington vs. Orem light pollution comparison
Click the picture for a larger view.

I wish I had a picture from before Orem's streetlights went up to compare to this one. These streetlights waste a tremendous amount of energy lighting up the sky, and their glare blinds drivers and pedestrians as well, making them worse than useless. It's a shame that the Orem City Council acted with such reckless disregard for energy efficiency, utility, and the natural splendor of the night sky when they chose this design.

UPDATE: I did some Googling on this subject and found something that makes me even more angry: The City Council "outright disregarded" arguments about glare and light trespass from the street lights. Paul Witte writes in the utah-astronomy mailing list:

[T]he lighting is HORRIBLE! I have driven by these new lights at night and the glare in your eyes makes it difficult to see the road. I've also seen that some people who have the streetlights in their front yard have hung blankets in their windows. The sad thing is there were several people from UVAA (Rich Tenney & Mark Dakins among them) who took the time to attend the city council meetings and specifically warned them about this stuff. They outright disregarded everything they said. I'm just glad I don't live in Orem anymore or I'd be investing in some black paint and/or a shotgun.

It's one thing if the council members were just uninformed about the issues of light pollution (in which case they shouldn't have been making decisions about street lights in the first place, but since when are decisions made by those who are qualified to make them anyway?). But to find out that they were informed of the issues and they ignored them just makes my blood boil.