Dark Sky Community Prospectus

  1. Rationale
    1. A small community (hereafter referred to as a dark sky community) can thrive without the need for streetlights or any other dusk-to-dawn lighting
    2. A dark sky community would appeal to people who value the night sky and a natural nighttime environment
    3. It will probably be many years before the majority of people will accept life without dusk-to-dawn outdoor lighting
    4. A dark sky community must be located far enough away from neighboring communities and other significant light sources that the night sky and nighttime environment will not be adversely affected, either now or in the foreseeable future
    5. It is better to live in community than in isolation
  2. Community Attributes
    1. A dark sky community should be multi-generational, but since rural employment options are limited, moving to a dark sky community may be easier for retired or semi-retired folks
    2. A dark sky community should be affordable, with a variety of housing options (units that can be rented, for example)
    3. An observatory commons area should be developed for observing and include more than one observatory for use by members of the community
    4. The dark sky community should engage in an ambitious educational outreach program, including the operation of an astronomy resort and astro-tourism business
    5. The business end of the community should be a nonprofit corporation or cooperative that operates the astronomy resort and rental properties
    6. The community should share resources as much as possible, freeing residents from the financial burden of having to individually own everything they need or use
    7. The dark sky community should engage in an ambitious program of collaborative astronomical research and data collection, working collaboratively within the community and with amateur and professional astronomers outside the community
  3. Community Location
    1. The most affordable option would be to “convert” an existing rural subdivision or small town into a dark sky community, current residents willing, of course!
    2. The best location for a dark sky community would be within, or adjacent to, a protected natural area such as a state or national park
    3. Recognizing that there would be distinct advantages in siting a dark sky community reasonably close to a town or city with medical facilities, it would be best (for astronomical reasons) for the dark sky community to be located southeast or southwest of the larger community
  4. Philosophy
    1. In an age of technological wonders such as digital imaging, computer-controlled telescopes, remote observing, and space astronomy, we recognize that there is still value in the experience of “firsthand astronomy” both for ourselves and our guests

For greater detail, see my astronomy village proposal for Mirador Astronomy Village.  I welcome your comments and ideas here.

Identifying Distant Light Pollution Sources

Ten years ago, I lived within easy walking distance of the south edge of Dodgeville, and on one starry evening, I walked to a favorite hilltop with a good view of the sky just south of town.  To my surprise and displeasure, I noticed a bright light dome in the southeast I had never noticed before.  Where was that light coming from?

Fortuitously, the bright star Antares was at that moment very close to the horizon, and right above the offending light dome!  I noted the time: 10:25 p.m. CDT on 15 May 2007.  And the observing location: 42° 57′ 06.4″ N, 90° 08′ 16.9″ W.

After getting home, I started up the Voyager planetarium software on my Macintosh, set the date and time to the observation time, and the observing location listed above.  I found that at that moment, Antares was at an azimuth of 134.2°.

Now, grabbing a protractor and a Wisconsin state map, I quickly determined that the most likely city along the 134.2° azimuth line from Dodgeville was Monroe, Wisconsin.  Though quite some distance away, could this have been the source of the light dome I saw?

Using a great circle calculation program on the internet and the known geographic coordinates (latitude, longitude) for the two locations using Wikipedia, I determined that Monroe is at bearing (azimuth) 133.5 from my observing location near Dodgeville at a distance of 35 miles.  This matched my star-determined azimuth quite well.

Was there an outdoor athletic event going on in Monroe at that time to cause so much light pollution?

Could the light dome possibly have been coming from Rockford, Illinois?  Even though Rockford’s bearing of 131.1° makes it a suspect, its line-of-sight distance of 71 miles makes this extremely unlikely.

Renters and Flood Plains

The catastrophic flooding in Houston brings back terrible memories of  the flood I experienced during the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 26, 2015 when my apartment in the Meyerland area of Houston took on three feet of water and I lost most of my belongings including my car.  There was no warning that the Brays Bayou would leave its banks that night.  My Meyergrove apartment has flooded again twice since I left Houston in September 2015: once on April 18, 2016, and again this weekend.  This frequency of flooding is unprecedented in that area of Houston.

Flood scene from 2nd floor balcony of my apartment building during morning twilight, May 26, 2015.

Everyone with a ground floor apartment lost most of their belongings in my apartment complex during the Memorial Day Weekend 2015 flood.  No one I talked to had flood insurance, and everyone had renter’s insurance that did not cover their flood damage, so they lost a lot.

Brays Bayou from the 2nd floor balcony of my apartment building, morning of May 26, 2015.

Which brings up an important point.  Why are there not laws to require lessors to disclose to renters when the apartment or house they are renting lies in a flood plain?  If the lessor has flood insurance on their property, then they should be required to inform their tenants of that fact and clearly communicate that the tenant should purchase flood insurance in addition to their renter’s insurance.  After all, when you are buying a house, you cannot get a home loan unless you purchase flood insurance if you are living in a flood-prone area.  Why do not renters have the same protection?

Perhaps there are other areas of the country where landlords have to disclose to their renters if they will be living in a flood plain, but there appears to be no such protection for renters in the state of Texas.



An Open Letter to an Unknown Neighbor

We haven’t met yet.  I’m a non-confrontational kind of person (a typical Midwestern trait, I’ve heard), always eager to please and not to offend.  But I want you to know how much your dusk-to-dawn floodlight bothers me.  You see, I’m an astronomer.  I even have a backyard observatory and I would love to show you the wonders of the night sky if you’re interested in seeing what’s up there.  I’m probably the only person in Dodgeville or Iowa County doing astronomical research several nights a week, weather permitting.  I accurately time when asteroids and trans-Neptunian objects pass in front of stars, blocking their light for fractions of a second up to several seconds.  There is a lot we can learn from such events.

When I moved into my house, I had to install thick curtains in my bedroom because your bright light floods into the room all night long every night.  In fact, your light floods into every window on the west side of my house.

I like it dark at night.  It helps me to sleep better and, I’ve heard, sleeping darker is sleeping healthier.  There’s even medical research that supports this.

Being an astronomer, I like to step outside and check the night sky from time to time, look at constellations—see if the northern lights are active.  All of this is a struggle for me now.  But it doesn’t need to be.

I think I know why you want to have this light.  It seems you are trying to light the stairway from your backyard to your front yard for safety reasons when using those stairs at night.  Have you considered putting those floodlights on motion sensors instead of a dusk-to-dawn timer?  You’d save money on bulbs and electricity.  Or, if you really feel you need the light to be on all night long, a better lighting system could be installed that would light your stairs without lighting up your neighbors’ houses and yards.  Can’t afford it?  I’m not wealthy either, but I’d be more than willing to pay for the lighting improvements, because I want to be a good neighbor and having a dark backyard and house at night means that much to me.  Besides, one of the benefits of living in a small town in this beautiful area of rural southwest Wisconsin is getting a decent view of the night sky.  No big city can compete with that.

I’ll even pay for us to hire a professional lighting engineer to do the job right so both you and I (and probably your other neighbors) will be thrilled with the results.  I know enough about lighting to say confidently we will have a win-win situation.  Guaranteed.

I’m looking forward to meeting you and discussing this.  Thank you.

Outdoor Lighting Codes and Ordinances in Wisconsin

Last Updated: 5/22/2017

Here are all the outdoor lighting codes and ordinances in Wisconsin that I am aware of.  A big thank you to Scott Lind, PE, of Hollandale, Wisconsin for initially putting together this list in 2007!

Please post a comment or contact me via email if you have additions or updates to this list.

Blue Moundsmap





See Section 23.707 Exterior Lighting Standards

Egg Harbormap

Fontana-on-Geneva Lakemap

Fox Crossingmap
Click on section Chapter 29 Development Ordinance and search for “lighting”

Fox Pointmap


Green Lake Countymap


See Section 4.07 Artificial Light and Glare


See Section 10.085 Outdoor Lighting



Mineral Pointmap
Is this lighting ordinance still in effect?  I cannot find it on the Mineral Point website.

See Section e Lighting Standards

New Glarusmap
See Article XVIII Exterior Lighting Plans and Standards

Oconomowoc Lakemap


Shorewood Hillsmap


See sections 9.02(7) Exterior Lighting, and 9.04(7) Exterior Lighting Plan

Sturgeon Baymap
See Section 20.12.(1)(b)12

See Section 17.0608 Lighting


Whitefish Baymap
See Section 16.31 III A2

Williams Baymap
See Section 15.03 Outdoor Lighting and Advertising Signs


The Wisconsin State Law Library maintains a comprehensive list of Wisconsin Ordinances and Codes.  This will be a good resource for us to find additional outdoor lighting codes and ordinances to be added to this list, as well as to check your local government’s codes and ordinances in general.

It is interesting to note that nearly two-thirds of these ordinances are for suburban communities in very light-polluted metro areas.  Another four ordinances are no doubt in place to help protect the Yerkes Observatory (Williams Bay, Geneva, Fontana-on-Geneva Lake, and Delavan).  Where are the rural ordinances and dark sky preserves?  Since there are very few remaining locations in Wisconsin where the night sky is truly dark, shouldn’t we be aggressively protecting those areas?  Wouldn’t it be easier to save a pristine area than to restore an almost hopelessly polluted one? Another interesting point is that upscale suburban communities are much more likely to have a lighting ordinance than more affordable communities.  Some subdivisions even exclude streetlights, but these are almost never places where most of us can afford to live.

Dodgeville is Not Bicycle Friendly

Quite a few people living in Dodgeville work at Lands’ End, but there really isn’t a safe bicycle route connecting Lands’ End with most of Dodgeville.  Right now, we basically have two choices—neither of them are very safe.  You can ride down Lehner Rd. to US 18 and then ride along the south shoulder of the highway until you get up to King St., then cross the highway there (no traffic lights and a 55 mph speed limit).  Or, alternatively, you can ride on the busiest street in town, N. Bequette St. (Wisconsin Hwy 23) and then follow rubblized W. Leffler St. up to King St.

There’s a large piece of farm land for sale between W. North St. and US 18, and though most of us would prefer that it remain farm land, chances are that it will someday be developed into Dodgeville’s newest residential subdivision.  If and when that happens, we should put in an asphalt bike path adjacent to the new road that will almost certainly get built to connect W. Chapel St. to King St.  Of course, the W. Chapel / US 18 / King St. intersection will need to have traffic signals.  What a wonderful addition this bike path would be for our community!

In the meantime, it would help if Lands’ End constructed a short connector bike path from the north shoulder of US 18 just east of the Lehner Rd. intersection to Lands’ End Lane as shown below.  Wisconsin DOT would need to review and approve the project, but it is likely they would be supportive of such a project given the unsafe conditions that exist today.

Another option would be to make use of the City of Dodgeville utility access road already in place on the north side of US 18, just a little west of the Lehner Rd. intersection.  A connector bike path could be built to Lands’ End Lane as shown below.

While we’re on the topic of bicycles, has anyone else noticed how much worse condition the streets are in—not just in Dodgeville but everywhere—than they were, say, 40 or 50 years ago?  The transverse cracking and alligator cracking on our city streets is as bad as I have ever seen, and certainly must be a major factor in why there are so few bicycle riders in our town.

Two Predictions About Outdoor Lighting Technology

Here are my (ever hopeful) predictions about the future of outdoor lighting technology.

(1) Dusk-to-dawn lighting will soon become a thing of the past.

Ever see the irony that as outdoor lighting efficiency has greatly improved over the last several decades, we have moved from “light only when you need it” to “lights on all night long”?  An incandescent light, if operated less than 3 hours per night, will use less energy than even the most efficient light source operated dusk to dawn.  Yes, that’s right.  Three hours of incandescent light (which is horribly inefficient) each night throughout the year uses less energy than an LPS, HPS, Metal Halide, or LED source of comparable lumen output operated dusk-to-dawn.  Just think of the energy savings we could realize by using an efficient light source that is used only when it is needed!

Passive infrared (PIR) switches, which are rather prone to false triggering, will be replaced by image analysis software that will do a much better job of deciding when a light needs to be on and when it does not.

The HID (high intensity discharge) light sources in common use today such as HPS (high pressure sodium) and metal halide have two drawbacks.  They prematurely age if you frequently turn them on and off, and they take a while to reach full brightness after having been off for a while.  These drawbacks do not exist with efficient “instant on” sources such as LEDs, which are even dimmable.

These new technologies in lighting and control will make it both easy and affordable to have reliable light only when it is needed.

(2) Security lighting will soon be replaced by much better crime prevention technologies.

Soon, flooding a premises with light will be one of the WORST things you can do to deter and prevent crime.  As security systems improve and become more sophisticated and affordable, security lighting will only be needed when an intrusion is detected, and maybe not even then if you want the perpetrator to be detected without them knowing they have been detected.  Fixed visual recognition systems or even mobile peripheral devices (MPDs)—as Bill Gates likes to call “robots” to avoid all the anthropomorphic connotations—that operate with ambient light (visible, infrared, etc.) will soon obviate anything so primitive as security lighting. And, if the stationary or mobile sensing device is inactivated by a hostile (or non-hostile) event, its connection with the base station inside the home or business would be broken and appropriate action could be immediately taken.

As both lighting technology and lighting control technology improve, it is my hope that dusk-to-dawn lighting will be rendered obsolete.

Avoid Blue-Rich LED Lighting

As Dodgeville (and many other towns and cities) are planning to replace their streetlights with LED luminaires, it is imperative that we use LEDs with a CCT (correlated color temperature) of 3000 K or less (Jin et al. 2015).  This is a “warm” white light (similar to incandescent) rather than the “cold” blue-rich light often seen with LEDs.  Outdoor LED luminaires often come in at least three “flavors”: 3000K, 4000K, and 5000K.  For example, American Electric Lighting’s Autobahn Series.  5000K luminaires provide the bluest light, and should be avoided at all costs.  Of these three, 3000K would be best, and if 2700K is offered, use that.

Why does this matter?  On June 14, 2016, the American Medical Association issued guidance on this subject.

High-intensity LED lighting designs emit a large amount of blue light that appears white to the naked eye and create worse nighttime glare than conventional lighting.  Discomfort and disability from intense, blue-rich LED lighting can decrease visual acuity and safety, resulting in concerns and creating a road hazard.

The detrimental effects of high-intensity LED lighting are not limited to humans.  Excessive outdoor lighting disrupts many species that need a dark environment.  For instance, poorly designed LED lighting disorients some bird, insect, turtle and fish species, and U.S. national parks have adopted optimal lighting designs and practices that minimize the effects of light pollution on the environment.

Recognizing the detrimental effects of poorly-designed, high-intensity LED lighting, the AMA encourages communities to minimize and control blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible to reduce glare.  The AMA recommends an intensity threshold for optimal LED lighting that minimizes blue-rich light.  The AMA also recommends all LED lighting should be properly shielded to minimize glare and detrimental human health and environmental effects, and consideration should be given to utilize the ability of LED lighting to be dimmed for off-peak time periods.

Incidentally, for your residential lighting needs, a good local source for LED bulbs that are not blue-rich is Madison Lighting.  They have many LED bulbs in both 3000 K and 2700 K. I use 2700K bulbs exclusively in my home, and the warm white light they provide is an excellent replacement for incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs.  Never purchase LED lighting without knowing the color temperature of the lights.

If you’re skeptical that the color temperature of LEDs is an important issue, I suggest you purchase a 2700K bulb and a 4000K or 5000K bulb with the same output lumens and compare them in your home.  I believe that you will much prefer the 2700K lighting.  If 2700K lighting is best for your home, then why should it not be best for outdoor lighting as well?

Besides, most streetlighting is currently high pressure sodium (HPS), which is inherently non-blue-rich.  You will find that 2700K LED lights offers better color rendering than HPS without the need to go to even bluer lights.

If you have ever been irritated at night by an oncoming vehicle with those awful “blue” headlights, you’ve experienced firsthand why blue-rich light in our nighttime environment must be minimized.

Why are 4000K and 5000K LED lights so prevalent?  They are easier and cheaper to manufacture, but with increased demand of 2700K and 3000K LED lights, economies of scale will reduce their cost, which today are generally slightly higher than blue-rich LEDs.

Now, a bit more about why blue light at night can be detrimental to human health, and the primary reason why the AMA issued a guidance on this subject.

In addition to image-forming rods and cones, there exist non-image-forming retinal cells in the human eye called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) that help regulate our circadian rhythms.  Studies have shown that blue light is far more disruptive to our circadian rhythms than redder light (Lockley et al. 2003).

Now, on to the environment.  Using a clever technique that compared sky brightness at several locations on several nights both with and without snow cover, Fabio Falchi (Falchi 2011) determined that at least 60% of light going up into the night sky is direct waste lighting, and 40% or less is reflected light.  This is as good an argument as any that we still have a long way to go towards using only full-cutoff luminaires that do not produce any direct uplight.  Blue light scatters much more in the night sky than red light, and this is due to Rayleigh scattering which tells us that the amount of scattering is proportional to the inverse of the wavelength of light to the fourth power, σs ∝ 1 / λ4.  This also explains why the daytime sky is blue.

Bluer wavelengths of light thus increase artificial sky glow to a much greater extent than redder wavelengths do.  Not only is an increase in blue light bad for astronomy, but its impact on the natural world is likely to be adverse as well.

Falchi recommends a total ban of wavelengths shorter than 540 nm for nighttime lighting, both outdoor and indoor.  He goes on to say that, at the very least, no more light shortward of 540 nm should be allowed than that currently emitted by high pressure sodium lamps, lumen for lumen.

Falchi, F. 2011, MNRAS, 412, 33
Falchi, F. 2016, The World Atlas of Light Pollution, p. 44
Jin, H., Jin, S., Chen, L., et al. 2015, IEEE Photonics Journal. 7(6), 1-9
Lockley, S. W., et al. 2003, J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 88(9), 45025

Our Vanishing Sidewalks

I’ll wager that most of you over 50 years of age grew up on a street with sidewalks on both sides of the street and all the way around the block.  You probably made use of them often.  Sidewalks used to be essential in residential neighborhoods.  Today, not so much.  More often then not, newer residential subdivisions do not have sidewalks, nor do they have off-road walking trails meandering through them.  If you walk at all, you have to walk in the street.  Having motorized vehicles and pedestrians sharing the same space is inherently risky, especially at night.

It is interesting to note that the Ancient Romans built sidewalks everywhere, but by the Middle Ages, people were again walking in the streets.  Progress is not inevitable.

Today, developers generally consider sidewalks to be an unnecessary expense, and homeowners are not clamoring for them because they are usually saddled with the expense of keeping them up.

Therein lies the problem.  It is my view that sidewalks should be treated as public infrastructure no different than city streets.  Just as the developer pays most or all of the cost of building the streets in a new residential subdivision, they, too, should be required to build sidewalks or, in a more rural subdivision, walking trails.  Sidewalks should be maintained (and that includes snow removal) by local government supported by tax revenues, not directly by the homeowner.

Perhaps the typical homeowner might be more supportive of sidewalks if they didn’t have to shovel the sidewalk in front of their house each time it snows, or replace sidewalk slabs when they’re broken or cracked.  Sure, they’d still be paying taxes to support those activities, but it would be a win-win situation for the entire community.  And shouldn’t that be our goal—the common good?

A Better Package

Expanded polystyrene (C8H8)n, known as EPS or styrofoam, consists of up to 98% air by volume, making it a great packaging material.  However, it is more difficult to recycle than other plastics and is also bad for the environment (floating in the oceans and ingested by marine animals, for example).  Expanded polystyrene in the form of packing “peanuts” and molded shapes has one very undesirable property for the end user: static electricity.  When you open a box with this material, the packing peanuts and detritus formed when you break larger pieces for disposal have a strong tendency to draw electrons away from other materials—even the air.  This results in a net negative charge, and EPS, being an insulator, ensures the excess charge remains localized and does not easily dissipate.  The result is that the EPS particles and peanuts stick to just about everything.  They also repel each other which often becomes a point of frustration when you try to corral the plastic peanuts in a garbage bag.

Fortunately, there is another option that is better for the environment and does not suffer from static electricity: starch-based packing materials made from corn or other plant materials.  You have undoubtedly come across cornstarch packing peanuts and maybe even noticed that they dissolve easily in water.  But did you know this material can also be shaped into molded forms and sheets?

I’d like to see “styrofoam” packaging materials completely replaced by starch-based alternatives.  Though currently these bio-derived materials are a little heavier than EPS and cost a little more to manufacture, with increased utilization and further research & development these current challenges can be overcome.

The next time you receive a package in the mail (or purchase an item at the store) from a manufacturer or a distributor that uses EPS materials, why not write them and ask them to use starch-based packaging materials instead?  And, be sure to thank manufacturers and distributors that are already using starch-based packaging materials.  As consumers, we have a responsibility to “move the needle” towards a more sustainable future for humanity on planet Earth.