aring Light Pollution

Light pollution is a problem we face every time we look at the night sky. Is the situation in the Chicago area any worse than in other cites? Believing it to be a crime deterrent, the city of Chicago has diligently bathed every nook and cranny in the glare of a streetlight. The metropolitan area is in good economic health, which means lots of shopping areas with lights aglow. For amateur astronomers in smaller cities, it's generally easier to get away from the glare, since you don't have to travel as far before you're away from town. But other factors come into play. The humidity level in the Midwest also contributes to the problem by scattering the skyglow well up into the atmosphere. While other cities have light pollution, it doesn't seem to be as pervasive as ours provided there is an undeveloped area nearby. One example is the Denver area. Directly to the west is the sparsely populated Rocky Mountains and dark sky. Plus the humidity is lower. The light pollution tends to be more confined to the sky immediately above the city. This means that once you get to the edge of the metropolitan area, you have comparatively dark sky, especially when looking away from the city. In our area, we are so built up that there's no getting away from lights, and looking over Lake Michigan helps only a bit, due to the scattering effects of humidity and all those lights along the shoreline.

Oh for a massive power outage on a clear, moonless night!

Published in the January 2000 issue of the NightTimes