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Glen Ellen, a ‘dark sky community’?

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Admit it. When you stumble out to the car before dawn getting a head start on the wretched commute, you glimpse the waning stars in the west over Sonoma Mountain and feel better about the day. The hint of new daylight in the east over the Mayacamas lifts you up. Or when you take the garbage cans out after dark you take a second glance up to enjoy the waxing gibbous moon, or the Milky Way sprinkling the heavens with a cloudy smudge. These treasures are available here in Glen Ellen still, but generally no longer in Oakland or San Francisco. It seems the night gazes of our starry nights need to be protected from light pollution.

It’s a thing. There’s even a Dark Sky Society. They describe light pollution as “light trespass,” where human light is “causing sky glow through the use of unshielded, excessive and unnecessary outdoor night lights.” Our timid owls, lions, river otters, frogs, beavers and avian friends all depend on the cycles of light and dark and, when artificially altered, it is confusing to these wild co-inhabitants of the valley. By eliminating light pollution, we can conserve energy, maintain community character, safeguard wildlife, and restore our aching souls in the eternal starry skies. There is a group within the Glen Ellen Forum, the cohort of locals who gather to discuss community issues, promoting the idea that we should protect our night sky.

There is also a Dark Sky Association promoting “Dark Sky Communities” with 10,000 dues-paying members, “working to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of the dark skies.” Flagstaff, Arizona, apparently, has been designated a Dark Sky Community by adopting legislative and voluntary suggestions regarding new construction and voltage. These groups offer practical suggestions about what lights are good for what nights, ideas for exterior lighting plans, how to talk to brightly-lit neighbors about these sensitive issues, etc.

For our community, light pollution is about outdoor lighting. Glen Ellen Forum will offer education sessions in the spring to promote these ideas and make suggestions about light placement on properties that can help keep glare to a minimum, maintaining views of Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and the brilliant blanket of sparkle on a black field that is the night sky.

In the meantime, visit Sugarloaf Ridge State Park’s Ferguson Observatory to view the night sky without interference from pesky human luminosity. It has solar viewing and “star parties,” and a Your Universe class monthly. Or, you can visit the Dark Sky Association (darkshky.org), or Dark Sky Society’s websites. Stay tuned for Glen Ellen Forum making a few suggestions about it in the spring.

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