Southeast Missouri State University researching light pollution in Cape Girardeau

Published: Nov. 5, 2019 at 10:45 PM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Southeast Missouri State University is joining a global effort to study the effects of human light pollution.

The school installed a sky quality meter on top of Rhodes Hall to measure the brightness of the sky over Cape Girardeau every five minutes.

Physics professor Dr. Michael Cobb said the data from the device will be given to the Missouri Chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association.

“We have a battery-powered single-channel photomultiplier tube that is looking at a 20-degree cone of the sky,” Cobb said. “Twice a month I go up and retrieve the unit, plug it into my computer, download the data and we send it off to Truman University which is the organizing center for the effort in Missouri.”

The goal of the international non-profit is to preserve and protect the night sky by promoting smarter outdoor lighting choices.

Dr. Cobb said many states and countries consider dark skies as a natural resource, just like water and air.

“Everyone that has ever lived has looked up and seen the stars, and I feel like there is a connection between me and all of the ancestors that came before me whenever I look up at the night sky," Cobb said. “It’s a resource that needs to be addressed and protected. A little bit of effort could go a long way in reducing light pollution and let us enjoy the dark skies that nature gave us.”

Dr. Cobb said certain cities like Flagstaff, Arizona have light pollution ordinances that control outside lighting so its neighborhood friendly, energy-efficient and helps preserve dark skies for nearby observatories.

“Again you still have plenty of light to see and look around it’s just they’re strategically placed," Cobb said. “There are shields around the light so it doesn’t go up into the night sky. It makes a big difference when you visit those sites.”

As of Nov 5, 2019, the meter at Southeast has only collected two weeks of data, but Dr. Cobb said its a long term project that will continue for years.

He said the goal is to get a ‘baseline’ of where Cape Girardeau is on the light pollution spectrum, and the information could also benefit cutting edge research on how artificial light impacts climate change, plants, wildlife, and human health.

“We are all affected and we are all connected by how much light we get and we are just now starting to understand the consequences," Cobb said. “We all have the circadian rhythm and you’re not supposed to look at your electronic device when you go to bed. The blue light keeps you awake, so all of these kinds of things we are just becoming aware of how important they are and dark skies is just part of that ongoing research.”

For more information on light pollution and ways, individuals and cities can make a difference visit the International Dark-Sky Association website.

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