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Courses - Astronomy 384: Modern Observational Astronomy

Astronomy 384: Modern Observational Astronomy

Deborah Haarsma , Department of Physics and Astronomy

ASTR-384 is a lab course where physics majors and astronomy minors learn astronomical observing methods through intensive projects. In Spring 2008, one of the four projects was an environmental assessment of light pollution on campus and its impact on the Observatory.

Light pollution is caused by poorly designed light fixtures that send light upward and brighten the night sky. Such pollution makes it difficult to view stars and to study faint nebulae and galaxies with a telescope. An even more damaging type of light pollution is caused by fixtures that shine light directly into the eyes; this type became the focus of the Astr384 project.

  • Spring 2008 Class Project: Proposal to Replace the Light Fixtures on the Commons Lawn (excerpt below)
    "The purpose of exterior light fixtures is to illuminate an area to help prevent crime and ease movement at night. To do this effectively, light must travel from the light source to an object (or person) to be illuminated, and bounce from there to an observer’s eye. Light that travels directly to the eye does not help one see anything – this represents a “waste” of light; worse, it can detract from a person’s night vision and hinder his or her sight of anything in dimmer light, just as when a driver or pedestrian is temporarily blinded by oncoming headlights and finds it more difficult to see for a time after the car has passed. This represents both a waste of the energy that produces the light which fails to usefully illuminate anything and a compromise to safety."
  • Memo to Provost regarding replacing light fixtures on Commons lawn (pdf)