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Taare Sadak Par – Quantifying and combating Light Pollution

Are you from a cursed, busy city like Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore that has so much of light pollution that we are becoming almost like inhabitants of the planet Lagash of “Nightfall”?

(In Isaac Asimov’s science fiction story “Nightfall”, the planet Lagash belongs to a six star system. All locations on the planet always receive light from one or other of the parent stars and have therefore no night – people do not ever experience total darkness. However, Nightfall does occur once every 2049 years when the single star visible on one side of the planet is eclipsed for a long duration.)

If so, whenever you have visited a planetarium, you must have come away wondering where all the stars that were shown in the Planetarium had gone – we do not really get to see so many stars from our city skies.

Unasked, nature gave us an inspiring vista surrounding us, a half dome filled with thousands of twinkling stars, whose very beauty would make us forget all the petty everyday life hassles that humanity has been increasingly facing since its creation. Where have all those stars gone? Creepy fingers of light have been spreading their tentacles over the skies, slowly eating those stars away.

There may still be a few dark locations left in the country, from where, one might be able to see the skies as nature intended them to be. From Manora peak of Nainital, for instance. What skies, this region has! Looking up at the Milky Way from this location and tracing its various dark lanes with just naked eye observations, one feels a personal connection with our home Galaxy and its 100 billion stars.

How many regions are left near cities and towns of India where the faintest, naked eye visible, stars can still be seen? What is the faintest star that can be seen from your location, on any given day? Would you like to make an estimate and see for yourself? This will not be just an idle exercise. By making that estimate and submitting your observations to a pool of data being collected from all over India, you can contribute towards a project of quantifying light pollution from different regions of India.

There is an ongoing “Taare Sadak Par” program of quantifying light pollution, by the simple process of counting the number of visible stars in some specific regions of the sky. Amateur astronomers from Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad have been enthusiastically contributing simple observations to this program for quantifying light pollution.

The "Taare Sadak Par" program is being formally inaugurated for anyone with an interest in it – “koi bhi, sadak par”, on the 11th and the 12th of April, 2008. The 12th of April, in fact, is celebrated by amateur astronomers worldwide, as Sidewalk Astronomy Day, wherein they set up their telescopes anywhere by the roadside and share the enjoyment of the stars with people by the roadside.

In that spirit then, on the 11th of April, amateur astronomers and staff of the Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi, will be conducting a public skywatch from the Teen Murti House backlawns, on the evening of the 11th of April, and from various sidewalk locations around the city, on the evening of the 12th of April. Volunteers from the NGO Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (S.P.A.C.E.) which has already taken the initiative of spreading awareness about light pollution, through its many astronomy related activities for school children, will be present and contributing towards the awareness programs and the star count activities. Volunteers from the NGO Astro Education services, another voluntary group involved in conducting astronomy related activities for school children, will also be participating in these activities.

The “Taare sadak par” program invites all groups working with children, to participate in this star counts program, and help children befriend the stars and also allow them to contribute towards collecting data in a scientific endeavor, for a cause that has not heard many concerned voices being raised in India, so far.

Why is this cause important? What is light pollution and why is it harmful?

Light pollution comes from excessive and wasteful lighting that is so irritatingly present in all our cities and towns. This excessive lighting also eats tremendously, into our energy resources. Far more energy is spent towards lighting our cities and towns for nighttime safety and convinience, than is really warranted.

This excessive lighting coming from human habitation, gets scattered back from the atmosphere, creating an artificially bright, night time sky. Many of the fainter stars then, are not visible from such night skies – the city dwellers are slowly becoming more and more like the inhabitants of the Planet Lagash, of Nightfall.

It would be possible to have correctly directed outdoor lighting systems which would consume far less energy, while providing all the necessary night time safety and convenience.

Light pollution could have harmful effects on human health leading to chronic headaches and stress. It is quite likely to be having a much more serious effect on nocturnal life.

The inspiration that stars have been giving to human creative spirits - Ovid, Kalidasa, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, E.M. Forster, Harivansh Rai Bachan – so many creative spirits have been inspired by a view of the stars – that inspiration is disappearing from our lives.

So, it is not just astronomers who look for far away locations where observatories might be set up, and amateur astronomers who look for outside the city locations where they might go for observing sessions – it is all of us, who need to be concerned about this vanishing inspiration from our lives.

So, please do participate with us, observe “Taare Sadak par” and help towards quantifying light pollution. Be at the Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi, at about 7:30 PM on the evening of the 11th of April, to observe Moon, Saturn and Mars through telescopes and later make friends with some stars and constellations. This simple friendship will be enough for you to contribute to this program!

Information about this program will be continuously updated on the website of the Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi :- and this Taarewiki

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Page last modified on April 08, 2008, at 05:52 AM EST