On August 29th, the lights went off and the stars turned on during a special event at Beijing Planetarium. As part of the meeting of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Dr. Malcolm Smith, National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), was honored for his long and substantial contributions to light-pollution abatement on behalf of astronomical observatories and the community at large. Dr. David Silva (NOAO Director) and Bob Parks (International Dark-Sky Association Executive Director) presented Dr. Smith with the IDA David Crawford Lifetime Achievement Award. This award, in honor of the International Dark-Sky Association's (IDA) co-founder and first executive director, recognizes those who have made substantial effort and change in light-pollution-abatement education.
The presentation was witnessed by a crowd of 100 people from the International Astronomical Union's special session on light pollution. At the same event, a planetarium Public Service Announcement "sneak preview" on light pollution, created by Loch Ness Productions for IDA, made its world debut (http://www.darksky.org/losingthedark).
Dr. Smith has argued the case for a transformation that would not only help astronomers but would also benefit human health and energy conservation. As Dr. Smith wrote in a Nature publication a few years ago, "Cities needlessly shine billions of dollars directly into the sky each year and, as a result, a fifth of the world's population cannot see the Milky Way." Lights at night confuse wildlife. For example, millions of birds in North America are killed every year because their migration patterns are disrupted by outdoor light. And baby sea turtles that hatch in the sand often mistakenly head toward cities, instead of the sea, lured by artificial lights. Some preliminary research even suggests that light at night is harmful to human health, potentially reducing the normal production of melatonin in our bodies, which suppresses cell division in cancerous tissue. Recognition of the problem is beginning to happen: some cities have made improvements in laws and regulations governing light. For example, new lighting codes in New York require dimmers and lights that are activated by motion sensors in many buildings. And Toronto's Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) encourages buildings to turn lights off during bird migration season.
Dr. Smith, who served as Director of Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (a division of NOAO) from 1993 to 2003, has been greatly involved in the world-wide effort to control light pollution as an environmental and astronomical imperative, along with the associated public affairs, outreach, and education efforts. For 9 years he was on the Board of Directors of the IDA, the leading international body supporting the control of light pollution. He served a three-year term as President of IAU Commission 50, which is in charge of the protection of existing and potential astronomical observatory sites, world-wide. He was the first chairman of the IAU Commission 50 Working Group, which is charged with controlling light pollution around existing and potential observatory sites.
Dr. Katy Garmany
Deputy Press Officer
National Optical Astronomy Observatory
W. Scott Kardel
International Dark-Sky Association
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NOAO is operated by Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.