The sky is growing darker in Rappahannock

By Joyce Harman and Claire Cassel
Special to the Rappahannock News

Saving Dark Skies, a Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP) initiative, is making stellar progress.

Some two dozen dark-sky compliant lights have been installed of late in Sperryville and other locations around the county. Several businesses including Thornton River Grille, Shaw’s Services Inc, B&B Service Center and Rappahannock Farmers Co-Op have replaced their lights to protect the night sky and also improve lighting for safety and security.

The new lights use 60 percent less energy, distribute light more effectively to the areas where needed, produce less unwanted glare for neighbors and local road traffic and reduce the skyglow that limits visibility of the night sky. Take a drive after sunset and see for yourself.

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
The back of Shaw’s Services Inc., before its outdoor lights were replaced (notice how most of the trees are lit up). The same view after the lights were replaced, producing more light on the cars (with the addition of a second light that was burned out in the first image) and no light on the trees. “The important structures are lit, and sky glow is eliminated,” says RLEP.

A PATH Foundation Make it Happen grant of $24,150 has been awarded to replace the county schools’ 85 outdoor lights with dark-sky compliant fixtures. The elementary and high school science departments are exploring ways to incorporate the project into the curriculum.

Other educational opportunities are emerging. Hearthstone School will offer students an astronomy class this fall, and a Claudia Mitchell Fund grant was awarded to Joyce Harman to fund printing of a night sky images display.

RLEP, together with the Rappahannock County Recreational Facilities Authority (RCRFA), will hold a dark sky event at Rappahannock County Park on Route 211, Saturday, August 25, 7:30 p.m., concurrent with the rising full moon.

During the summer months, the Milky Way is visible in the southern sky with the best viewing at the time of a new moon and two or more hours after sunset. But even when the moon is present, the planets and brighter constellations are easy to spot and fun to observe.

Astronomers will explore the craters and mare of the moon with their telescopes while scanning the skies for Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. Joyce Harman will share tips on night photography. Bring binoculars, a camera and a smartphone. Why a smartphone? Harman will demonstrate how to take a moon picture that will amaze friends and family.

For those who want to get great views of the Milky Way during a new moon, stay tuned for another RLEP event at Rappahannock County Park on Saturday, October 6.

Tips for the best star viewing:

— Choose days around the time of the new moon (or when the moon is not visible 30 minutes before/after the moon rises or sets).

— For maximum darkness, begin observation two hours after sunset (you can see stars well, however, even one hour after sunset).

— Choose a clear night to see the maximum number of stars.

— To maximize the number of observed stars, stay outside without any lights for 20 minutes to allow your eyes to adapt. If you need light, use a red light.

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1 Comment

  1. Now if we can just get residential homeowners to turn off their mercury vapor lights that they have erected next to theirs barns and other outbuildings that THEY LEAVE ON ALL NIGHT, things will continue to get darker!

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