Night sky view from Rap­pa­han­nock un­like any other

Moun­tains and foothills nat­u­rally block light from Lu­ray, War­ren­ton, Front Royal and Culpeper

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - BY RICK KOHLER

The space sta­tion flew over Rap­pa­han­nock at 5:33 p.m. one re­cent Sun­day evening, a mar­vel of en­gi­neer­ing arc­ing gen­tly across the night sky above the ris­ing half moon for al­most three min­utes.

The moon lit the south­ern hemi­sphere, with the shin­ing space sta­tion be­tween it and a sparkling ar­ray of stars in the north­ern hemi­sphere. A truly beau­ti­ful and in­spir­ing mo­ment to cap­ture.

As a point of in­ter­est, the moon or­bits earth at a speed of 2,288 miles per hour. Dur­ing this time it trav­els a distance of 1,423,000 miles. The In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion or­bits

the earth at a speed of roughly 17,150 miles per hour (that’s about 5 miles per sec­ond). The space sta­tion sees a sun­rise once ev­ery 92 min­utes.

The full mag­nif­i­cence of this sight could not be viewed from War­ren­ton, Culpeper, Front Royal, Lu­ray, or al­most any­where else. In fact, it could only be seen from a very few places on the en­tire East Coast due to light pol­lu­tion — some­thing most of us rarely, if ever, think about.

Rap­pa­han­nock County is one of only a few places east of the Mis­sis­sippi River with clear night skies. The Blue Ridge Moun­tains block the light from Front Royal, Lu­ray and Shenan­doah Val­ley, while foothills block Manas­sas, Culpeper and War­ren­ton. So we still en­joy clear, star filled, night skies

. . . of­fi­cially called “Dark Skies” by the in­ter­na­tional Dark-Sky As­so­ci­a­tion.

Here’s an in­ter­est­ing fact. The Milky Way Gal­axy, our gal­axy, has a some­what flat and spi­ral shape, like a dis­cus thrown by an ath­lete. Earth, our sun and our en­tire so­lar sys­tem are a tiny spot on an outer edge of this huge, spi­ral shaped cluster of gal­ax­ies, stars, plan­ets, neb­u­las, black holes and an­ti­mat­ter.

Our po­si­tion near the edge al­lows us to see to­ward the cen­ter, to­ward the bil­lions of stars con­sti­tut­ing our gal­axy. With the naked eye it looks a bit cloudy or milky, hence the name Milky Way. From spring un­til fall, the gift of those stars is ours. In win­ter, the earth’s or­bit places our star, the sun, be­tween earth and the rest of the gal­axy. Now we en­joy the daz­zling stars and neb­u­las of Orion and other outer edge con­stel­la­tions. Imag­ine . . . our Rap­pa­han­nock view is unique to the uni­verse.

It is es­ti­mated 80 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion will never see the Milky Way due to light pol­lu­tion. To save this won­drous nat­u­ral re­source for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, it is im­por­tant we not suf­fer the light pol­lu­tion of the many.

The main source of light pol­lu­tion is . . . lights

. . . not all lights, just those shin­ing up­ward and out­ward in­stead of be­ing fo­cused down and around. There are ap­prox­i­mately 334 tele­phone pole lights in Rap­pa­han­nock. Most of these have a globe type fix­ture, are owned by Rap­pa­han­nock Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive (REC), and are leased to prop­erty own­ers.

Rapp Elec­tric of­fers a new “Dark Skies Com­pli­ant” LED fix­ture which saves elec­tric­ity and the stars. RLEP has ne­go­ti­ated with REC, upon re­quest by landown­ers, to re­move these out­dated fix­tures and in­stall the new one for free, any­where in this county . . . the dif­fer­ence be­ing the light is fo­cused more down­ward from the top of the tele­phone pole in­stead of down, out, up, over and into the uni­verse.

In­ter­est­ingly, stud­ies have determined that a fo­cused light pro­vides bet­ter se­cu­rity. If you have ever been stopped by a po­lice­man at night, when he shines his light in your win­dow, you can­not see. But he can see per­fectly be­cause the light is fo­cused. The same holds true for a pole light ra­di­at­ing light in all di­rec­tions. A fo­cused light pro­vides bet­ter se­cu­rity while a globe light con­stricts your pupils and the out­ward “glare” makes it harder to see.

This pro­ject is com­pletely vol­un­tary. It is spear­headed and funded by the Rap­pa­han­nock League for En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion ( in con­junc­tion with REC with fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from the Kreb­ser Fund and Trin­ity Church. REC will re­place any pole light they own on pri­vate prop­erty with a down-shielded 3000 Kelvin LED light. In the event traf­fic con­trol is re­quired, there is a charge of $85 which RLEP will pay. Stud­ies show this light is health­ier for live­stock breed­ing cy­cles, and the gen­eral health of an­i­mals, mi­grat­ing birds, other wildlife . . . and, im­por­tantly, the sleep cy­cle of hu­mans.

In the event you are in­ter­ested in re­plac­ing your older barn, garage or house fix­tures with “Dark Skies” fix­tures, RLEP is of­fer­ing to pay for your these, too. We are re­search­ing at­trac­tive mod­els and work­ing on ad­di­tional grants as we think many will be in­ter­ested and want to par­tic­i­pate in this vol­un­tary com­mu­nity-wide ef­fort.

Rap­pa­han­nock has the op­por­tu­nity to be­come a “Dark Skies Friendly Com­mu­nity,” and at no cost. Once lost, we will never get the stars back. We can save our unique view of the stars for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. We might even en­hance tourism, pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for youth based busi­nesses and pro­vide needed sup­port to the lo­cal restau­rants and shops we, as res­i­dents, of­ten en­joy vis­it­ing.


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