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An Experiment in Light Pollution: Can You See the Light?

October 6, 2015
By Robert Strong, Libby Strong and Richard Pollack - SMART Science , OVParent

Pollution is the act of introducing some kind of foreign "stuff" into the natural environment, usually changing the natural environment in a negative manner.

Pollution can come in many forms. When we think of pollution, we usually think of only a few kinds of pollution:

Sometimes human activity is the cause for making the air, water or soil polluted. If humans cause it, humans can control and stop it.

Article Photos

Nature also may create pollution in the air, water and soil. Sometimes pollution happens naturally from floods, fires, storms and other natural occurrences of introducing contaminating differences into the air, water and soil.

There are additional kinds of pollution that we can add to the above list:

Discuss these sources of pollution with your family and friends.

Try to create a definition for each source of pollution.

What can you do to decrease the amount of each pollution and the negative effects it has on the natural environment?

What could you do to completely eliminate each source of pollution?

Are there other kinds of pollution? See if you can come up with more kinds of pollution.

Light Pollution

One form of pollution we usually tend to forget about is light pollution. Light pollution does not cause the air to smell odd. We can't hear it. It does little to change the taste of water, and it does not leave a lasting "puddle" of extra light on the ground. So why worry about light pollution? Do the effects of extra light in the natural environment seem to make a big difference?

Our brightest source of light is from our closest star, the sun. The sun is so bright that adding extra light to the natural environment during the daytime would not make much of a difference. To see the difference in the natural environment that light pollution makes, you have to wait for it to get dark.

Included here is a map of the United States at night showing the light pollution as seen from Earth orbiting satellites. With the help of your family, see if you can pick out the three local large cities of Pittsburgh, Pa., Cleveland, Ohio and Columbus, Ohio. Notice how little or much light pollution there is in our region, the northern Ohio Valley.

Once the sun begins to set, go outside with your family or friends on a clear evening and watch the sky. In a short amount of time, you will notice the sky is getting darker and darker. Do this experiment every evening for a week or so and notice how many stars you see an hour after sunset. Also note if the moon is in the sky during your observations and what phase it is in - thin crescent, half moon, full moon or somewhere in-between. The moon is a natural source of light pollution; it adds a greater than normal amount of light to the nighttime sky, affecting your ability to see a dark sky, faint stars and the Milky Way.

Experiment - Change Your Location

If you live in the country away from the small towns in the northern Ohio Valley, go out and see how many stars you can see at night. If you live in one of the many small towns in the area, do the same - see how many stars you can see in the night sky. Ask your parents to take you and your family on a little drive. If you live in the country, drive into town. If you live in town, drive out into the country. Comparing the nighttime sky just a few minutes apart but in different locations will allow you to realize quickly that there are also human-made sources of light pollution and that this light pollution does change the appearance of the nighttime sky.

Our house lights, street lights, billboards, etc. create a sky glow that overwhelms the fainter stars and the Milky Way. Most people agree that a clear and dark sky is far more beautiful than a light-polluted night sky. After performing the experiment, do you agree? What do you think?

In Part 2 next month, we will discuss how you can help reduce our local light pollution.



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