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Blinded by the light

Posted by Ralph Ranalli October 4, 2007 11:03 AM

skylights.jpg
(Sky & Telescope Magazine Satellite Photo)

REGION/UNIVERSE

Astronomy professor Wendy Bauer pulls on a thick rope, opening to the night sky the huge, overhead dome of Wellesley College's Whitin Observatory. She aims the antique brass-and-mahogany telescope, twice as tall as she is, toward the opening. Then she climbs a rickety wooden ladder to look for Jupiter.

Other than her blue T-shirt, she could be taken for an astronomer in 1900, the year the observatory was built. But there's another difference between then and now - the view. The stars at night are not so bright, staff writer Lisa Kocian reports in today's Globe West.

As development has come to the western suburbs, so has light pollution. And the change has occurred so quickly, local astronomers say, that there hardly is anywhere in Greater Boston that has escaped its drastic effect in recent years.

When Bauer arrived at Wellesley in 1979, she could see the Milky Way with her naked eye. No longer.

Wellesley's situation exemplifies what has become an international debate over what to do about the fading firmament. The International Dark-Sky Association, headquartered in Tucson, was incorporated in 1988 to spread the word about light pollution. Bauer, who describes herself as a not-very-active member, said lobbying against wasted light isn't antidevelopment because there are plenty of light fixtures available now that don't illuminate the sky. The trick, she said, is to increase public awareness.

Read more about the debate over light pollution in the online edition of today's Globe West.

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