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To See Stars, Arlington Students Ask You To Dim The Lights Saturday Night

D.C. area star-gazers are lucky to spot a few dozen stars, much less the Milky Way, as visible here in West Virginia.
Forest Wander: https://www.flickr.com/photos/forestwander-nature-pictures/4806771747
D.C. area star-gazers are lucky to spot a few dozen stars, much less the Milky Way, as visible here in West Virginia.
A flyer designed by H-B Woodlawn students to get out the word.

Have you ever really looked at the night sky above the D.C. region? Thanks to light pollution spilling out of city centers, office buildings and homes, the human eye can pick out fewer than 100 of the 2,500 stars typically visible without the aid of special equipment. A group of students from H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program in Arlington are hoping to change that — if just for one night.

The school's Earth Force Club is asking that Arlington residents close the blinds, dim the lights and come out and enjoy the night sky for just 30 minutes this Saturday.

The idea came up during a lesson on light pollution in their class astronomy unit. The students learned about the effects of light pollution and decided they wanted to take action.

“My science teacher showed us a video on light pollution and how it was affecting things,” says sixth grader Cynthia Dillon. “We started looking up facts and what we found worried a lot of us. We may not be able to see the Big Dipper in 2025.”

And, the students are quick to add, the harmful effects of light pollution go beyond just obscuring the stars.

The amount of light pollution is staggering as seen from the International Space Station. D.C. and Baltimore are the third clump of lights from the left. (NASA)

“People don’t know that it can be good to turn off the lights beyond just saving energy,” says Henry Hammer, another sixth grader and Earth Force member. “It can save the lives of animals, it can reduce smog, it helps the environment.”

Indeed, according to the International Dark Sky Association (pdf), light pollution can affect the flight paths of migratory birds, expose small mammals to predators and reduce the birthrates of amphibians.

The event is time to coincide with International Dark Sky Week as well as Arlington Earth Day, a fact that has helped them recruit public officials to their cause.

“We went to the Arlington County Board to get Arlington on board with it, and the county manager is taking care of dimming some lights,” says Jenny Gerson.

Science teacher Kathy Molina says it’s been a big project for the students, who have spent a lot of time doing research and getting out the word.

“I’m pretty proud of them for their hard work,” Molina says. “They've given up about two months of lunches to get this done.”

The dark sky observance will take place from 10 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. this Saturday, April 26.

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