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Mont-Mégantic Dark-Sky Preserve

As presented by: Rob Dick (Chair LPAC) Dr.Yvan Dutil (ASTROLab du Mont-Mégantic, RASC-LPAC) Dan Taylor (RASC-LPAC).

 During the third week of September, there was a three-day meeting, in which the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) held a meeting hosted by the ASTROLab du Mont-Mégantic located 60 km east of Sherbrooke, Québec. There were invited speakers from across North American and from Europe. During the meeting, the Mont-Mégantic Observatory and the region around the site was declared an International Dark-Sky Reserve and received the RASC LPA Award in recognition for the accomplishments.

When we work on the reduction of light pollution, it is easy for us to feel that we are working alone – a handful of people against a country of 30 million people. It takes a lot of effort to work against what seems like helpless odds. Occasionally however, we get the chance to meet and speak to others working towards the same goals.

There were two parts to the meeting. There was a conference with speakers from across Canada, the United States and one from Europe and then there was the award ceremony.

The Meeting

 The meeting was held in the modern and spacious ASTROLab facilities below the Observatory. The meeting room had all the modern amenities: computerized consol, digital projector, sound system and real-time French–English translation.

Speakers ranged from light-pollution activists, lighting industry representatives, astronomers, and national park representatives from Canada and the United States. The meeting in the ASTROLab brought people from varied backgrounds to learn about and appreciate different points of view.

There were three themes to the presentations:

  1. The impact of light pollution on the nocturnal environment (astronomical and biological),
  2. Progress being made by the lighting industry, and
  3. The efforts being made to reduce light pollution

To hear the astronomer’s point of view, Dr. Richard Wainscoat represented the International Astronomical Union with images from the American Department of Defense cloud monitoring satellites.

Dr. Martin Aubé of the CÉGEP du Sherbrooke, has developed a sky spectrograph for monitoring the light pollution. His technique not only measures the light-pollution level, but identifies the different light sources.

Astronomers do not have the last word on the night sky. Wildlife is impacted by artificial lighting as well. Carina Poulin, a student at the University of Sherbrooke, discussed the affect of lighting and sky glow on the nocturnal environment.

Mario Motta, a physician from Boston focused on one aspect of physiology to focus our attention on the limitations of current lighting requirements. His point was that with lighting we see less. This is because of the constriction of our iris under high ambient light. But not so well known is that cataracts in aging eyes develop from the centre of the lens outward. The crystalline material that forms the cataract is less transparent to light and does not form as clear a focus as the less-affected periphery of the lens. Therefore, in the case of people over 40, the constriction of the iris results in much less light getting to the retina than generally realized, and the image is significantly degraded.

The activity of some astronomers has moved towards that of lighting engineering. With a different perspective from the lighting industry, Dr. Christian Luginbuhl questioned the use of standard calculation methods in lighting design.

The Illumination Engineering society, represented by its President Kimberly Szinger of Calgary, showed the increased sensitivity that the lighting industry has for efficient and effective lighting. Yannick Vaillancourt of the Corporations of Electricians of Quebec represented lighting consultants, and Eric Ladouceur is a lighting engineer. They explained how lighting fixtures are selected to satisfy a given requirement.

The RASC Light-Pollution Abatement Program has evolved to track, if not lead, this evolution. In the presentation by Robert Dick, the evolving RASC LPA Program was presented covering its beginnings in the 1976 and 1977 articles in the RASC Journal, the National LP Committee of 1991 and the LPA Program of 2000 up to the present. There is now clear evidence for the changing perception of cities. More municipalities are listening to their concerned citizens and are adopting better lighting practice rather than the policy of more light.

In order for cities to improve their lighting policies, they have to hear about what should be improved. Dan Taylor has successfully worked with the City of Windsor to introduce their lighting policy. The result is their Lighting Intensity Standards (LIS). Although the LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for energy efficient construction practice includes a Green Building Rating System, there is very little consideration given to lighting. Windsor’s LIS provides much more control over municipal lighting.

The limited capability of these systems restricted how much information could be derived from the satellite data. Dr. Yvan Dutil of the Mont-Mégantic Observatory suggests that a dedicated satellite be developed to monitor light pollution. The growing importance of energy usage and the growing realization of the impact of artificial lighting on the environment, makes this a good time to begin these studies. He is in consultation with Dr. Cinzano and the European Space Agency to promote interest in this project. The current instrument has very modest requirements suggesting a low cost micro sat platform may be possible.

Apart from the interest of astronomers in artificial lighting, the American and Canadian Park authorities are also involved. Their goal is to sensitize the public to the problem of light pollution, and to promote interest in, and respect for, the nocturnal environment.

Chad Moore of the US Park Service introduced their sky-monitoring program. Their CCD based instrument is carried to parks. With a fisheye lens, they take images of the night sky and analyse them for atmospheric clarity and sky glow. This instrument was used to quantify the MMO site. His insights and those of his colleague Dan Durisco, have helped the RASC in their development of the criteria to assess Dark-Sky Preserves.

Parks Canada is also very sensitive to the nocturnal environment. Dr. David Welch presented their position regarding light pollution. The development of Canadian parks as Dark-Sky Preserves may be more fruitful than south of the border because of the more limited development within Canadian parks and sparser population beyond the park borders. Parks Canada is developing an agency-wide outdoor lighting protocol that, when implemented, will significantly restrict lighting within national parks.

The last speaker was Paul Blu, the president of the French Association for Nighttime Protection (ANPCN). talk showed us how fortunate we are. In France, the problem is so bad that even successful LPA programs have very little effect. Light pollution is so wide spread and engrained in their society, that we were impressed by the persistence of the ANPCN.

The International Dark-Sky Association Certification

The RASC has been recognizing Dark-Sky Preserves for seven years since the creation of the Torrance Barrens DSP on 2000 October 14. Canada now has the largest number of certified Dark-Sky Preserves in the world with six, with the USA a close second at four. Hungary is the only other country with a DS Reserve with one. However, Mont-Mégantic is the only Dark-Sky Reserve in Canada to be officially recognized as a DS Reserve by the International Dark-Ssky Association (IDA).

The staff at the Mont-Mégantic Observatory ASTROLab (their public outreach and interpretation Centre), lead by Chloé Legris has reached out to neighbouring municipalities as far as Sherbrooke, Québec, 60 km away to the west. Local municipalities have converted to lower level illumination and shielded fixtures.

In recognition for this effort, the RASC has awarded the Observatory, and surrounding communities, the RASC Light-Pollution Abatement Award. The Certificate was presented by Robert Dick (Chair, RASC-LPAC) to M. Bernard Malenfant, the President and founder of ASTROLab du Mont-Mégantic.

The IDA certifies Dark-Sky sites using three levels: gold, silver and bronze. The MMO Dark-Sky Preserve is classified as "Silver."

The site evaluation has been done by Chad Moore of the US Park Service. Based on his experience, the Mont-Mégantic sky was Bortle Class 1 or 2, However, the light dome of Sherbrooke was affecting his dark adaptation. For this reason, the site ended up with a silver level.

 The most important point about the establishment of this Dark-Sky Preserve is that it proves without doubt that good lighting practice can reduce the light pollution and reduce the energy consumption. The Director of the Observatory, Dr. Robert Lamontagne, likened the improvement to turning down the light pollution to what it was like 30 years ago The energy saved is equivalent to the annual consumption of a small town of a few hundred inhabitants! Hopefully, this success will be imitated elsewhere.

 

The article was published in the August 2008 issue of The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Journal.