The falling of stars 

Is light pollution blotting out Whistler's spectacular night sky?

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY DAVID MCCOLM

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Given that we still don't really understand what gravity is and what gives particles mass, and are still identifying new sub-atomic particles, it's safe to say that we're still in early days here. Theories may change; the impossible may one day be possible, and humans could one day stand on another planet in another solar system. One day we may even find a way to communicate with another intelligence, and be reassured once and for all that we're not alone.

How can you look up at the stars and not feel awe?

The awe, then and now

There are some who feel that Whistler's night sky, once clear enough to see the blue-white glow of the Milky Way on any moonless night from practically anywhere, is being blotted out by light pollution — the result of development and policies that don't place as high a value on the night sky as other factors.

I've been in Whistler since 1999 and while I'm no astronomer I do know I used to be able to stand outside my office in Function Junction at night and see a vivid night sky with the arc of the Milky Way overhead. Now the Pique offices are surrounded by new buildings, offices, warehouses and residences, some of which have exterior lights that shoot photons directly into the sky for reasons of safety and/or aesthetics. There's a new BC Hydro yard that is lit up brightly from dusk to dawn, and exterior lights on business signs.

Across the highway and up the road a little, some 1,200 or so locals live in a brand new neighbourhood with every light adding even more light to the mix at this end of town. The Valley Trail lighting poles in Cheakamus Crossing were designed to look like Olympic torches, an artistic decision that casts more unshielded light into the atmosphere than the usual overhead Valley Trail lights.

I live in Bear Ridge, which was built in 2002 and where every pairing of homes has an unshielded light on the exterior wall and the entire lane is lit with partially shielded bulbs. It's bright enough to play road hockey long after the sun has gone down.

Spring Creek Community School opened across the road in 2004 with unshielded sodium vapor lamps casting an orange glow over the area until late in the evening. The more expensive homes in the Spring Creek area also use upward lights to call attention to expensive exterior rockwork and illuminate trees. During Christmas, there are festive lights everywhere.


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