On a cloudless night, one can retreat to the shores of Chautauqua Lake and look up at an inky sky aglow with illuminant white specks and the silver claw of the moon. Unbridled by the glares of street lamps and headlights, the night sky visible at Chautauqua Institution is rare and treasured for its picture-perfect view of the stars above.
Tonight, Chautauquans can catch more than a glimpse of the night sky and peer through a new lens that will show more than what meets the eye.
A special Star Party will allow Chautauquans to see stars at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3 at the John R. Turney Sailing Center, where telescopes will be stationed for attendees to gaze through.
The Star Party aligns with Week Six’s theme, “After Dark: The World of Nighttime,’’ in a joint effort between the Chautauqua Property Owners Association’s Outdoor Lighting Committee and the Climate Change Initiative.
The event encompasses several programs, including a kid-friendly astronomy activity from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Smith Wilkes Hall, lectures by featured astronomers from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Smith Wilkes, and a telescope demonstration from 9 p.m. to midnight at the sailing center.
At least 20 telescopes will be set up along the shoreline of the sailing center for all to look through, guided by the expertise of astronomers from the Buffalo Astronomical Association, Martz-Kohl Observatory and SUNY Fredonia’s astronomy department. Using their knowledge and experience, astronomers will aid attendees in using the telescopes while briefing them about sky-related topics, from constellations to conservation efforts.
Within the lecture portion of the event, expert astronomers will introduce Chautauquans to the world above their own, highlighting the basics of astronomy and the importance of conserving the night sky. Members from the CPOA’s Outdoor Lighting Committee will also touch on the Institution’s Dark Sky Initiative and light pollution, a topic National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson discussed in his lecture Monday in the Amphitheater.
The Dark Sky Initiative aims to reduce lighting on the grounds to conserve energy and eliminate carbon emissions that cloud the night sky.
“By reducing unnecessary lighting, we’re achieving significant energy savings and emitting significantly less carbon dioxide,” said Climate Change Initiative Director Mark Wenzler. “Reducing light pollution at night also helps wildlife. From an environmental perspective, it’s really important for nighttime pollinators like moths or bats to not have excessive light pollution that interferes with their life cycles. I think from both the energy savings perspective, climate perspective, as well as wildlife perspective, reducing unnecessary outdoor lighting has really clear environmental benefits.”
Not only can high-wattage lighting pollute the dark sky, but it can also affect the way people operate on the grounds.
“The bright lights are not good for your circadian rhythm that we humans have,” said CPOA Outdoor Lighting Committee member William Neches. “One of the problems with lights that are shining directly in your face is a thing called disability glare. For young people, if you look into light and then you look down, the visibility that you have of what’s on the ground is less, and then the older you get, the worse it becomes.”
Great progress has been made within the Dark Sky Initiative; last spring, almost all of the 240 lights on the Institution grounds were replaced by low-wattage LEDs that angle downward on the street rather than upward toward the sky, which is an accomplishment that took 13 years to complete.
The Institution is on its way to being approved as an official Dark Sky Community by the International Dark Sky Association within the next year, according to Neches. This would make Chautauqua the first Dark Sky Community in a municipality east of the Mississippi River.
The Star Party will provide an opportunity for Chautauquans to see firsthand what they could lose to high-wattage lights, and how they can help the effort of achieving the Dark Sky certification within their own homes.
Both Neches and Wenzler anticipate a night of excitement and enlightenment in an event they hope to host annually after its pilot year.
“I hope that Chautauquans come away from this event being in awe of the wonder of dark night skies, and appreciating that we have this tremendous resource that we need to protect,” Wenzler said. “It’s so easy to lose the ability to see the Milky Way, to see the stars, through unnecessary light pollution. When people can see what we’re missing if we don’t address unnecessary light pollution, I think they’re all going to come away as champions for dark night skies.”