Light pollution is an ongoing problem at OC
To the Editors:
Light pollution is becoming a major problem in the world and the Oberlin community is no different. Oberlin College has faced this ongoing problem for a long time with most people in the community unawares. It has become so bad that it has interfered with the teaching of Astronomy 100. Each fall 120-125 students take the class, so that every spring there are at least 500 students who have taken the class. That makes the impediment of the class’ curriculum even more terrible. The light pollution from the Science Center alone has decreased the visible stars in the sky by at least 60 percent.
By comparing the magnitudes of the visible stars about 20 degrees from the horizon, observatory technician Lee Lumpkin found that the amount of visible stars had decreased from about 5000 before the building to 2000 when the science center lights were turned on. And it is not just stars we are losing. Before the center, the Milky Way was visible nearly every night. Currently there have been three, maybe four nights when students could pick it out. For most of the students here, seeing the Milky Way is impossible where they are from. One of Oberlin’s main attractions has been that it still has the charm of a small town. Part of that charm is seeing the stars like you cannot anywhere else.
Lee Lumpkin has been working on this problem for the four years he has been here, hired as a part-time worker for the observatory. Although there have been great improvements, such as limiting the light from Mudd library and blocking the light from the skylights of the language lab in Peters, problems continue to arise. Light is added often to new things such as sidewalks, parking lots and places where people feel generally unsafe.
Currently, the largest problem for the observatory is the south entrance to the new science center. Despite attempts to communicate the observatory’s needs during the building of the center, nothing was done to reduce the glare from both the atrium and the south entry. From the deck of the observatory, you can see seven of the fluorescent bulbs from the atrium while you can see none while you are actually in the atrium. Almost all of the fluorescent lights prevent more than 80 percent of the light from reaching the ground. All of the light is going straight up, and in an area with so much glass, it goes straight up to the sky and glares in the eyes of people on the deck. The south entry alone is 50 times the amount of light recommended by professional engineers for a publicly used building at night. So the College is spending 50 times more electricity than needed.
As far as what we students can do, the main thing is to pressure the administration to follow the Oberlin Environmental Initiative. If we follow those guidelines, specifically ones concerning lights, we can help in our way. These guidelines will not only cut down in light pollution, but also cut fossil fuel use and help the environment along the way. Light pollution is not just a problem for those who enjoy the view of our heavens, but for all of us who are concerned for the welfare of our planet.
–Margaret Putney, College junior