Friday, March 27, 2009

Lights Over Arlington

Map of greater Arlington & Southside showing major light sources

I've written about this time and time again, how the night sky is disappearing from our urban areas. This problem was recently driven home in a very forceful manner.
The astronomical society too which I belong, the Northeast Florida Astronomical Society (NEFAS) is always on the lookout for new observing areas. I decided to check out a couple of nearby locations, the Blue Cypress Park and University Park Library, both in Arlington.
There was a time, though a long time ago. when the light pollution in the Arlington section of Jacksonville was moderate, to the point that Jacksonville University had an observatory. That was almost three decades ago. The situation has changed, of course for the worse.
Like many large cities, almost all of Jacksonville now has severe problems with light pollution, but the situation in formerly moderately dark Arlington was almost heartbreaking. As a teenager, I would visit my best friend Craig, who lived in the northern most parts of Arlington, and many nights, goofing off by the swimming pool where he lived, we could see far more stars; this, only a mile or so further north than Blue Cypress. Now, most of those stars are gone, washed out by a strange charcoal orange color from thousands of sodium lamps.
At Blue Cypress, I wandered out unto the soccer fields and set up my little short tube 60mm telescope. Saturn was up in the east, shining in Leo. The mighty winter constellations were up to the west. The first indication of trouble was the almost complete loss of the Pleiades; they were almost invisible over the Talleyrand docks. The Orion Nebula, even telescopically. was just a hint of its former self. At least Saturn shown some contrast, though Titan could not be seen.
Moving to the University Park Library parking lot, the situation was worse; the bright, whitish lamps completely killed the sky, though Saturn and Sirius persisted. And I was planning on possibly setting up sessions in either location.
Brighter objects can be made out still, of course. I have little doubt that planetary and lunar observing from either location could still occur, and it might even be possible to see some of the brighter deep sky objects. Sadly, for an entire generation of residents, children and adult alike, the night sky is no longer black, studded with hundreds of stars, but instead a strange, muddy color punctuated by just a few.

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