Yale To Kick Off Year-Long Celebration of Astronomy

The Yale University Department of Astronomy is planning a series of activities — including talks, movies, exhibitions, concerts and other events — to mark the celebration of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) 2009, a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO to introduce people around the world to the field of astronomy.

IYA marks the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical observation through a telescope by the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. Universities, science centers and museums around the world are commemorating Galileo’s discoveries with a range of programs and special events.

The Yale series will kick off with a talk and other events on the issue of light pollution and preserving a dark night sky.

Talk on reducing light pollution

Author and inventor Bob Crelin will give a talk titled “Preserving the Night Sky: Light Pollution and How To Reduce It” at 7 p.m. on March 28 in the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium, 355 Prospect St. The public is invited.

As a young boy growing up in nearby Branford, Connecticut, Crelin says he can vividly remember the wonder he felt staring up at a night sky filled with thousands of stars and a bright Milky Way that stretched from one end of the sky to the other.

But years later, when Crelin wanted his own young daughter to experience the same magic, he found there were far fewer stars in the night sky and the Milky Way had all but disappeared.

“Kids growing up today have no connection to that sense of wonder you get from looking up into a night sky full of stars and realizing your place in the universe,” he said.

The problem was glare from the surrounding gas stations, street lights and homes that flooded the night sky with overly bright light and drowned out the stars. Crelin began researching the issue of light pollution — a topic that was largely unknown at the time — and realized that the simple solution involved changing the types of light fixtures used so that the light was directed downward onto streets, sidewalks and porches where it’s needed instead of up into the night sky.

“In addition to the impact on the night sky, light pollution wastes energy, which in turn needlessly wastes money and increases greenhouse gas emissions,” Crelin said. “But no one really thought about their lighting. The problem was a total lack of awareness.”

Crelin worked with the local town planner and together they created new light pollution legislation for the town of Branford that requires new commercial buildings to use smart lighting designs that reduce glare and wasted light.

Since that first law was enacted in Branford in 1997, Crelin has worked with many surrounding towns in Connecticut and beyond to help them adopt similar regulations. In 2001, he worked with state legislators to extend the law to street lighting, and by 2003 it was expanded to include floodlights. As a result of the regulations, local businesses such as gas stations have shown a 50% to 80% drop in their lighting energy costs.

“Smart lighting design preserves the night sky, saves money and helps the environment,” Crelin said. “It’s a win-win solution.”

Realizing there was a lack of good lighting designs available to the homeowner, Crelin, who is a professional artist, also co-founded Lighting by Branford, which manufactures the GlareBuster — a “dark sky” floodlight that won an award from the American Lighting Association and which is sold in lighting and hardware stores across North America and in the United Kingdom.

In addition to his advocacy work, giving public lectures and designing smart lighting, Crelin has written a children’s book, “There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars,” to educate the next generation about the beauty of the night sky and how we can make simple changes to “bring back the stars.”

“I always was an environmentalist to some degree,” Crelin said. “I think we owe it to our kids to pass on an understanding about how to preserve the environment.”

Globe at Night

The astronomy department is asking area residents to help them answer a simple question: How many stars can you see from your backyard at night?

As part of a program called Globe at Night, being held March 16-28, people are being asked to measure the light pollution in their area by counting the stars in a constellation to see how dark — or bright — the night sky is. Participants can then bring their results to the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium on March 28 to help create a map of light pollution in the New Haven area.

Visit www.globe.gov/gan to participate.

Earth Hour 2009

The astronomy department is also asking individuals to take part in Earth Hour 2009, to be held 8:30-9:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 28.

Earth Hour is a global campaign to get the citizens of Earth to turn off their lights for one hour each year. Through the program, organizers hope to create a stunning night sky full of stars, reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and promote greater awareness around global warming. Visit www.earthhour.org for more details.

Public observing with telescopes will take place during Earth Hour on March 28 at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium.

For more information about these and other IYA events, visit www.yale.edu/iya.

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Media Contact

Suzanne Taylor Muzzin: suzanne.taylormuzzin@yale.edu, 203-432-8555