SETI [ASTRO] IAU Press Release on "Technological Fog"

Larry Klaes (
Mon, 19 Jul 1999 18:07:29 -0400

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>Date: Mon, 19 Jul 1999 21:57:43 GMT
>From: Ron Baalke <>
>Subject: [ASTRO] IAU Press Release on "Technological Fog"
>Reply-To: Ron Baalke <>
>For Immediate Release
>16 July 1999
> "Technological Fog" May Cut Off Humans
> From Rest of Universe, Astronomers Warn
>Humans may cut themselves off from valuable new knowledge about the
>rest of the universe in a few years by enveloping the Earth in a fog
>of light and radio emissions, an international group of astronomers
>warned today.
>Astronomical research, which has strongly contributed to human
>progress for thousands of years, now is under threat from activities
>in space and on the ground, according to the conclusions of a special
>environmental symposium of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)
>attended by scientists from 25 countries. The symposium, "Preserving
>the Astronomical Sky," was held July 12-16 at the United Nations
>facilities in Vienna, Austria.
>"The threats to astronomy not only jeopardize our ability to gain
>important new scientific knowledge by studying the universe, but also
>will increasingly affect other human activities," said Dr. Johannes
>Andersen, General Secretary of the IAU. "In particular, outer space,
>once a pristine environment, is rapidly becoming overexploited and
>polluted," Andersen added.
>The symposium participants called for international cooperation to
>reduce the threats of light pollution, radio interference and space
>debris. "These problems are global in scale and effect, and long-term
>in nature. International efforts are needed to resolve them, as the
>UN already has done for the oceans and the Antarctic continent,"
>Andersen said.
>Specifically, the astronomers reported that:
>"Wasted light" spilled into the night sky has made much of the world
>unsuitable for astronomical research. In addition, this problem costs
>billions of dollars that otherwise could be spent for more productive
>uses. One report presented at the symposium, showed, for example,
>that wasted light measured from space costs at least USD $720,000
>annually in Vienna, $2.9 million in London, $4.2 million in
>Washington, D.C., and $13.6 million in New York City. The solution is
>to use good outdoor lighting techniques that not only protect the
>astronomical sky but also improve nighttime visibility, safety and
>security as well as save the money now used to produce the wasted
>light - a true win-win situation.
>Radio signals from satellites and airborne platforms now threaten our
>ability to study the extremely faint radio emissions from celestial
>objects. This imperils radio astronomy, which has revolutionized our
>understanding of the universe in the past half-century, including the
>discovery of pulsars, quasars and the radio-emitting "afterglows" of
>gamma ray bursts. Radio astronomers were the first to suffer from
>interference such as that coming from globe- girdling systems of
>communication satellites that cannot be avoided, even in the most
>remote parts of the world. They pointed out that radio telescopes are
>so sensitive that a hand-held wireless telephone placed on the Moon
>would be one of the "brightest" objects in the radio sky. However,
>others now are beginning to feel the effects, including users of
>navigational and environmental-studies satellites. With proper
>engineering techniques and reasonable regulation, the interference
>problem can be controlled at marginal cost, allowing astronomers to
>continue studying the universe and others to use radio communication
>facilities. The astronomers also called for the establishment of
>regions on the Earth to be designated "radio-quiet zones" where the
>most important radio observatories of today and tomorrow can be
>protected from interference. The science ministers of the
>Organizationfor Economic Cooperation and Development, meeting in Paris
>last month, underlined the urgency of this problem. They agreed to
>establish a high-level task force to develop long-term solutions that
>will safeguard both humankind's radio windows on the universe and the
>efficient development of commercial telecommunications.
>The outer space environment is being degraded by the proliferation of
>orbiting debris that can damage or destroy manned and unmanned
>satellites, and already interferes with ground-based astronomy. A
>scientist at the symposium reported that there is an estimated 2,000
>tons of material in low Earth orbit and that the Earth currently is
>circled by more than 100,000 objects larger than 1 centimeter.
>Large, bright objects in space could have ruinous effects on astronomy
>as well as on the natural nighttime environment and the cultural
>values of people around the world. There are proposals for mirrors to
>direct sunlight toward Earth, "artistic" or celebratory objects in
>space such as a "star of tolerance" satellite, and advertisements in
>orbit. Some of these objects would be so bright that they would
>permanently damage the eyesight of anyone who might look at them with
>binoculars, according to a report presented to the symposium.
>"Astronomy is a vigorous science that continues to rivet the attention
>of millions of people worldwide. It has given us many important
>contributions and a sense of our place in a vast and exciting
>universe. The night sky is an integral part of the cultural heritage
>of peoples around the world," said Dr. Woodruff Sullivan, of the
>University of Washington, one of the symposium organizers.
>"We cannot afford to allow the pollution of the sky - both by light
>and radio waves - to deprive us of the ability to unravel the
>mysteries of the universe. The IAU Symposium called for global
>efforts to resolve pollution problems that already have deprived
>millions of their view of the universe, and threaten cultural
>resources as well as vital research efforts around the world," Dr.
>David Crawford, Executive Director of the International Dark-Sky
>Association, another symposium organizer, said.
>Future projects that may degrade the space environment at any
>wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum should be subject to prior
>international environmental impact assessment before approval, as is
>now done for major projects on Earth, the symposium participants
>Media contacts:
> Dave Finley, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Socorro, NM USA
> (505) 835-7302
> FAX: (505) 835-7027
> Jacqueline Mitton, Royal Astronomical Society, UK
> +44 (0) 1223 564914
> FAX: +44 (0) 1223 572892

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