Stargazers in Cayman are hoping that by raising public awareness of light pollution, they can have clearer views of the night sky.
The Cayman Islands Astronomical Society is joining a global initiative to help tackle the issue of light pollution that is not only hindering astronomers’ views of planets and stars, but also causing problems for Cayman’s turtle population.
“Light pollution is becoming a hot topic, especially with so much building still going on in Cayman, and the idea is to raise public awareness of the problem,” said president of the local astronomical society, Chris Cooke.
“For example, when building sports facilities with spot lighting, how to balance the provision of sufficient light on the field without blasting useless light into the night sky,” he said.
He also pointed to the impact of light pollution on the nesting habits of turtles.
To find the ocean, hatchling turtles gravitate toward the brightest light, which is usually the moon reflecting on the water. But on beaches affected by light pollution, the baby turtles walk toward the artificial lights instead, which usually leads them toward the roadside, causing death.
The Cayman Islands Department of Environment each year contacts beach-side condo owners and residents who live on beaches where turtles are known to hatch to urge them to turn off their exterior lights at night during the hatching season, so that baby turtles will not become disoriented once they emerge from their nests in the sand.
Dark Sky Week
The global effort against light pollution is headed by the International Dark-Sky Association and aims to help people learn about astronomy and participate in stargazing events to learn about light pollution.
“Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone,” according to the Dark-Sky Association’s website.
The Cayman Islands Astronomical Society is hosting a stargazing event tonight (Friday) at the observatory at the University College of the Cayman Islands as part of Dark Sky Week.
While light pollution can play havoc with astronomers’ efforts to view planets, Mr. Cooke said there are ways around the issue through the use of technology available on island, including electric charge coupled device, or CCD, cameras, which hook up to a telescope and allows astronomers to download images of planets.
“Through CCD cameras, there’s a way for the modern-day astronomer to still view things, even though there is light pollution,” Mr. Cooke said.
Friday night’s event at UCCI – a joint effort between the National Trust, the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society, and the university – is not just about light pollution, Mr. Cooke said. It will also offer the public a rare chance to get close-up views of Mars and Jupiter through powerful telescopes.
“The intention of the evening is to show that the natural beauty of the Cayman Islands also includes its night sky,” said Mr. Cooke.
The gathering also helps onlookers learn how to use different telescopes.
“The evening gives the opportunity for the general public to stargaze; the Society will have several telescopes available for the public to use,” said Mr. Cooke.
“Excitingly, the Society plans to link up live with other astronomy societies in North and South America who are holding similar events on the same evening, as well as the Caribbean, including Trinidad,” he added.
“In honor of Earth Day, this event is absolutely free to the public. Come join us for an evening under the stars,” said Cathy Childs of the National Trust.
While the event is free, guests are encouraged to donate to the astronomical society so that the group can buy new equipment that will also be available for public use.
For those generally interested in astronomy, Mr. Cooke said, it is best to “head towards the east, away from George Town” for better views of the night sky as there is less light pollution in the eastern districts.
Friday’s free stargazing event at UCCI’s observatory runs from 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
The Cayman Islands Astronomical Society will host its next meeting at Pedro Castle on May 1, from 7:30-9 p.m. It is free and open to the public.