If Darkness Fails…
Late in the evening on March 18, 2017 a group of neighbours and friends gathered at Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area (ASCCA). Among these friends were the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) represented by five stellar volunteers, the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (RAO) represented by their amazing Education Coordinator, and the ASCCA was joined by Ann Cross' son Marshall Abbott. But what prompted this meeting under the cover of darkness? Curiosity about our interstellar views and concern for that darkness itself was at the top of the list.
As mentioned in last month's article the trees along the 22X were recently cleared for future utilities. These utilities are to include new lighting along the highway. Lighting that has the potential to disrupt the dark sky that has allowed the ASCCA to become Canada's first Nocturnal Preserve and has given the Rothney Observatory years of important astronomical research. If the light fixtures that are planned along the highway and other nearby developments go into place, the resulting light pollution will be astronomical, which is sadly not a pun as with fewer stars seen through the glow of development would mean the Observatory's ability to operate under such brightening conditions would be increasingly limited, and possibly non-existent in the future.
The RASC did a wonderful job educating participants on the less obvious impacts that the new light pollution would have on the ecological balance of our Nocturnal Preserve. For example, there is the disruption that artificial light has on every organism's circadian rhythm, or the changes in foraging patterns of nocturnal animals who avoid bright lights. Birds who use the stars to migrate successfully year after year are having their maps obscured from the sky. Another impact is the insects and some birds who are drawn into artificial light that fly around, transfixed, until they fall to the ground in exhaustion.
We are not asking Alberta Transportation not to put up lights along the 22X; we are just asking them to reconsider the type of light fixtures and LED lamps that they plan to install. To install fixtures that will allow both the RAO and ASCCA to continue to operate in the best possible darkness. One grade six student who recently discovered the plans for new lights along the 22X blurted out “but don't they know there is an observatory and Nocturnal Preserve here?” The answer to that is yes they do know our concerns. What Alberta Transportation is unaware of is whether our neighbours care about what their lights will do to these two legacies of Sandy Cross. “What we need”, says Marshall Abbott, “is for those who are concerned about the lights to write to their members of government and ask them to please tone it down when it comes to these lights.”
For more information on the impacts of light pollution on astronomy and wildlife please go to the RASC website at http://calgary.rasc.ca/lp/ . To contact Alberta Transportation please email: Rizwan.Hussain@gov.ab.ca or phone (403) 297-5500
Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area