Astronomy and sodium lighting

by W. H. Krase, Kathleen A. Wolf


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In the last decade, lighting in the City of San Diego and its suburbs has increased substantially. Astronomers at Palomar Observatory are concerned that the encroaching light will make many of their measurements impossible. San Diego will soon convert its street lighting to one of the more efficient sodium systems. The function of this Note is to identify and analyze some of the important factors in this public policy question. The first purpose is to assess the significance of light pollution to astronomers. The second purpose is to focus on methods of mitigating the effects of light pollution. The third purpose is to compare the costs and efficiency of low- and high-pressure sodium lighting. The findings reveal that light pollution presents a problem for many types of astronomical measurements. Although a number of methods of reducing the impacts of lighting might be adopted, the most promising is conversion to low-pressure sodium lights. Costs of the low- and high-pressure systems in San Diego are comparable, and the final decision on the type of lighting should be based on other factors.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Note series. The note was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1979 to 1993 that reported other outputs of sponsored research for general distribution.

This research in the public interest was supported by RAND, using discretionary funds made possible by the generosity of RAND's donors, the fees earned on client-funded research, and independent research and development (IR&D) funds provided by the Department of Defense.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.