Light pollution wiping out the Texas night sky

Everything's big in Texas. Even the stars at night. The trouble is, light pollution from ever expanding metropolises is washing out the view of those majestic, twinkling skies.

Never fear. The constellation posse is here.

'At least 21 Texas cities and counties... have adopted so-called dark-sky ordinances for outdoor lighting,' reports The Eagle, a newspaper in the Bryan-College Station metropolitan area about 100 miles northwest of Houston. 'Other cities, including Houston, are converting thousands of streetlights to light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, which use less electricity, last longer and produce less light pollution than traditional bulbs.'

One town looking to dim down is Montgomery, tiny at the moment with about 700 residents, but rapidly expanding. Montgomery – the birthplace of the Lone Star flag – is about to build four housing developments.

'Within the next five years, the city won't look at all like it does now because of the growth,' says city administrator Jack Yates, who explains that Montgomery plans a dark-sky ordinance 'to head off the urban glow that comes with more development.'

Montgomery has first hand experience at the hazards of expansion, as lights from Houston 50 miles to the southeast have ruined the view for local star gazers and their telescopes.

As Montgomery prepares its law, it will emphasise that lights have to point downward and not leach up toward the sky – something at which LEDs excel.

Yates says that his town will not impose an ordinance as strict as the one in Dripping Springs about 25 miles west of state capital Austin.

'Dripping Springs restricts the amount of lighting on a lumens-per-acre basis and requires shielding for all outdoor fixtures so their light travels only down,' The Eagle writes. 'The city can fine violators for each offense.'

For its efforts, Dripping Springs last year earned the highest possible ranking from International Dark-Sky Association.

One problem: As posses go, the Night-Sky gang isn't always up there in effectiveness with the likes of the Texas and Louisiana lawmen who took Bonnie and Clyde. Just ask the star- and sleep-deprived residents of Fort Bend County.

'The county already regulates lighting in unincorporated areas for the benefit of the George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park, southwest of Houston,' the story notes. 'But the rules have had limited effect, if any, because of booming development and lackluster enforcement.'

Good luck, Montgomery.

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Photo is from Almond Butterscotch via Flickr