Ballarat’s expansion is having a stellar impact, but not in a good way.
With increased growth comes more light pollution and the ability to see fewer stars and objects in the night sky.
Ballarat Observatory manager Judith Bailey conducts regular dark sky surveys around the city, using a sensitive light meter to measure light levels at various locations around Ballarat.
Ms Bailey visits the same sites each time, in the same conditions, to look at how lighting levels have changed over time.
Her most recent survey has shown higher light levels in the night sky at different sites across the city.
“Light levels change when new street lights are put in, new subdivisions are established or trees are lost in an area,” Ms Bailey said.
“What it does is make dimmer stars harder to see and deep sky objects almost impossible – the more light pollution you have the fewer things you can see in the sky.”
Ms Bailey fears the long term push to grow Ballarat’s population to 200,000 by 2050 will mean unprecedented levels of light pollution unless developers, council and residents “think smart” and consider the implications of light pollution.
The fact we see fewer stars in the night sky is not the only symptom of increased light pollution – it has a big impact on wildlife and insects.
“It is disruptive for a lot of animals and wildlife that need darkness. We tend to take for granted the fact that we need light to see where we are going in the dark, but other animals don’t.
“When you put in more light you can change the ecosystem, and what a lot of people don’t realise is we are just one segment of the ecosystem.”
Ms Bailey and other dark sky crusaders are working toward creating a “dark sky community” around Woowookarung Regional Park.
Ms Bailey hopes to work with the City of Ballarat to minimise the amount of light spilled in the areas surrounding the park.
“We aim to look at all the issues surrounding light pollution and putting best practice in place, not just going with the flow,” she said.
The use of LED street lights, which are used in some areas of Ballarat, can help reduce light spill as can turning off unnecessary lighting after midnight, installing street lights on only one side of the street, and ensuring the street lights do not overlap.
“I think change will happen, but it does not happen quickly,” she said.
Ms Bailey will detail the findings of her dark sky survey at the Dark Sky Symposium – Working Towards Dark Skies event in Ballarat on Monday, which follows on from the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers conference being held this weekend.