International Dark Sky Association

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About 13 years ago I moved from the city to the country, planning for a growing family and hoping for a little more elbow room between houses. Another reason for the move, also important to me, was that the night sky was darker in my new town, due to the fact there were hardly any streetlights, billboard lights, or close shopping malls with their glaring un-shielded parking lot lights!

Before you guess that I may be a vampire who hides from the bright rays of the sun at dawn, I must confess, I’m a different kind of worshiper of the dark night; I’m an amateur astronomer.

So what does all this have to do with infra-red (IR) cameras? To a stargazer who’s also concerned with home security, it is everything! Instead of using energy wasting constant floodlighting to illuminate my home at night, an IR camera is a wonderful home security tool that sees through the dark without causing the loss of “dark adaptation” or dark accustomed vision, so precious to those of us wanting to view the natural wonders of the starry heavens, like the Milky Way, comets, meteors, auroras, and many other wonders of space.

The specific name for this more than annoying viewing problem that deprives us of the beauty of the night sky is “light pollution.” Energy wasting, improperly directed (mostly upward directed) light fixtures are causing automobile and pedestrian accidents and, as in my case, taking much of the viewing pleasure from backyard astronomers trying to enjoy their hobby.

If you live in a light polluted area, this is why you can’t see as many stars in your backyard sky as you can when you visit an area with minimal outdoor lighting. Do you know there is more than one generation of city dwelling children who have NEVER experienced a dark sky filled with stars?

It’s sad to think anyone growing up in such an environment may never be touched by the true beauty of the sky after sunset. That beauty is always there, even in the city, but unfortunately blocked by poorly designed light fixtures. The cost of the energy wasted each year in the name of light pollution exceeds $3 M.

International Dark Sky Association

My outdoor security cameras, all IR wavelength lighting equipped, allow me to see in total darkness. When I’m done stargazing with my telescope I turn on my motion detector floodlights. Yes, these are bright and annoying but only go on during that critical moment when an intruder enters the property (usually a neighbor cat, thank goodness!).

The trespasser, human or not, is quite startled under this sudden light condition, believe me! These cameras provide a great sense of well-being with their night vision capabilities. I also never receive a call from neighbors complaining of floodlights shining in their bedroom windows.

International Dark Sky Association

Perhaps the designers of IR security cameras were never thinking of preserving starlight for “astro-geeks,” as we fondly call ourselves. That’s perfectly fine. I still feel a need to express appreciation for an excellent product that even inadvertently, helps to preserve a natural resource as important as the night sky and helps in the fight against light pollution.

If you are interested in helping fight light pollution where you live, contact the International Dark Sky Association at http://www.darksky.org for more information.

Bill Gucfa has been scanning the night sky for over 50 years. He has helped in the implementation of more than a few light pollution ordinances in southern New England. He is a member of Skyscraper’s Incorporated of Seagrave Memorial Observatory in N. Scituate, R.I., and the Astronomical Society of Southern New England. Contact him at bgstarlite@aol.com with any questions you may have about the night sky.