Carnegie Mellon University
May 31, 2019

Conference Aims to Save the Sky from Light Pollution

By Ben Panko

Have you ever noticed that when you’re in the country, there seems to be more stars in the night sky than when you’re in the city? The stars are still there, you just aren’t able to see them due to the presence of other light from things like buildings, cars and streetlights.

The inaugural Dark Skies Conference, held on June 1 at Carnegie Mellon University, seeks to educate people about the harms of light pollution, and how to go about remedying it.

In 2012, Department of Physics Special Lecturer Diane Turnshek visited the Mars Desert Research Station out in the empty expanses of southern Utah. "The sky out there in the desert blew me away," she said, recalling the Milky Way and the myriad of stars visible in the perfectly dark night. "I just don’t understand how people can live without seeing the stars."

That trip inspired Turnshek's longtime crusade against light pollution, with the Dark Skies Conference she's organized being only the latest iteration of it. She has been working with local government in Pittsburgh to have all of the city's high-pressure sodium streetlights replaced with amber-colored LED lights that reduce light scattered into the sky, and she is leading an effort to create a full map of Pittsburgh's light pollution using drones.

"I want Pittsburgh to become known for being a leader in this," Turnshek said.

The conference brings together astronomers, urban planners, sleep researchers and others to discuss the effects of light pollution and how to fix them. Beyond just blotting out the stars, light pollution has been shown to affect human health, animal behavior and even trees. "It's everybody's problem," Turnshek notes. "It takes everybody to have a solution."

The conference is free and open to the public. In addition to complimentary lunch and parking, 60 attendees will also get free copies of the 2019 edition of the short fiction anthology Triangulation: Dark Skies, which is edited by Turnshek.