Light pollution from University of Connecticut poses problems for stargazers

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Light pollution from University of Connecticut is making it difficult for students and faculty alike to observe the elements of the dark night sky, according to UConn physics professor Jonathan Trump.

Light pollution is defined as “any kind of stray light that sort of dilutes or distracts from what you’re trying to see in the night sky,” Trump said.

UConn’s facilities produce significant amounts of light that hinder optimal star viewing, Trump said. Trump said he believes the main source of light pollution on campus seems to be coming from athletic facilities.

“There’s a bunch of athletic fields on the side of campus where E.O. Smith High School is,” Trump said. “Whether they’re in use or not, I always see big stadium lights on in those facilities.”

Trump said that his graduate school experience was far different than UConn in terms of night sky accessibility.

“I was doing my graduate studies at the University of Arizona, and Arizona is really well known for dark skies,” Trump said.

Trump said that dry climates correlate with fewer clouds, which is why places like Arizona allow for optimal viewing because there is no cloud coverage. In addition, certain towns in Arizona such as Tucson have ordinances regarding limiting the amount of light pollution, Trump said.

“So for instance, there are ordinances where you can only have street lights facing down,” Trump said.

Trump said the best spot on campus to view the night sky is Horsebarn Hill, which is located away from where a majority of UConn’s light is situated. Because of this, students in astronomy fields and clubs often select this area when viewing the stars, Trump said.

In the past, astronomy professors and enthusiasts have made efforts to encourage UConn to shut off lights at facilities that are not in use. Those efforts were made prior to Trump’s arrival to UConn three years ago, Trump said.

“For whatever reason they said ‘Sorry, we can’t do that. We can’t help,’” Trump said.

While there is a main telescope on top of the Grant Science Complex, Trump said the issue with the current location is that it’s relative to other facilities on campus.

“Whenever you have exhaust coming from the heating or air conditioning systems, it’s a different temperature than the immediate air,” Trump said. “And that introduces some turbulence in the air, which really blurs what you see.”

Trump said that the most important part of trying to combat light pollution on campus is student engagement, which would be done through educating students on what light pollution is and what the main causes of it are.

Trump added that there has been talk of building a new observatory off campus, away from the light pollution that UConn poses.

“We would actually build a little robotic telescope in its own dome,” Trump said. “We’d actually drive it by using a computer here in the Physics Department. We could do remote observing that way.”

Although the project is still in the very early stages, it may become legitimate in a few years, Trump said.

“It’s an idea that’s being discussed in some degree of seriousness,” Trump said.


Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at taylor.harton@uconn.edu.

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