International Dark Sky Places

March 2014

OrionNow would it not be absolutely wonderful if Betty’s Bay could be declared an International  Dark Sky Place? It certainly has all the potential to become one and not such a difficult goal to achieve either.
First of all we would have to implement a community-wide lighting code. Now how difficult could that be?
As set in the International Dark Sky Association Guidelines, we would have to promote responsible lighting and set an example to surrounding communities, promote eco-tourism, protect human health, nocturnal habitats and public enjoyment of the night sky.
Betty’s Bay’s  lighting code would have to adhere to the following: Fully-shielded or  full cutoff  standard for all lighting fixtures over 3000  lumens  initial  lamp  output.  Is that sounding too technical? In other words we would not be allowed to project our lighting heavenwards and in all directions, onto our neighbour’s property or flood the fynbos.
Restrictions would have to be placed on the total amount of unshielded lighting for an area of certain size with the issue of over-lighting to be taken seriously.
A wide range of community organizations would have to support the initiative – even the electricity suppliers.
How amazing it would be if the BBRA would support such an initiative!
If Betty’s Bay were to become an International Dark Sky Place, it would be allowed to use logos like ” First South African IDA Dark Sky Community”
Even if Betty’s Bay never receives this international recognition, there is no reason why we could not retain and preserve the beautiful night sky. Our skies are darker than the surrounding communities. We are an example. Educators are in abundance and I have noticed that Betty’s Bay has some of the most enthusiastic folk when it comes to protecting this area.
I had my telescope out recently and standing out in the dark, I thought of all the kids that are growing up without seeing the stars….and I wondered, how can one live without being able to see the stars?
Oh yes, I almost forgot – I love promoting public enjoyment of the night sky!

Two little Clouds

Feb 2009

There are two little clouds that can only be seen from southern latitudes. Even on cloudless summer nights these two clouds are ever persistent. If you face south to southwest and slowly gaze slightly upward, you will notice them – one a bit larger than the other but night after night always taking on the same form. These two clouds do not belong to the Earth’s weather pattern at all but are actually two, very far away irregular dwarf galaxies called the Large and Small Magellanic clouds.

At a distance of 179,000 light years away, they were known as the Earth ‘s closest neighbouring galaxies until another galaxy, the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy, which is 80,0000 light years away, was discovered in 1994.

However, not to be upstaged by the new discovery, the Magellanic Clouds will always hold appeal because of the fact that they both are clearly visible to the naked eye as well as being south circumpolar objects, sometimes a bit higher in the sky and sometimes dipping low towards the horizon. If you own binoculars, take a closer look at these two clouds. You are not going to see rain there but I can assure you that a pretty picture will unfold.

When I am at Betty’s Bay I gaze up at the sky regularly just to confirm that they can actually still be seen with the naked eye  I am always relieved that although I have new neighbours who tend to leave on outside lights throughout the night, I am still able to find the galaxies without the aid of my telescope.
A note to all Betty’s Bay residents: From where I live near city lights I cannot see the Magellanic Clouds at all. Like so much else that is precious about Betty’s Bay, the night skies also need to be preserved.