London Borough Of Ealing Declared International Dark-Sky Reserve: Spoof
Hilariously, I have been “quoted” in a fictitious article on the website The Spoof. This article boasts the headline: “London Borough Of Ealing Declared International Dark-Sky Reserve”!
The piece continues:
‘London is an international centre of excellence for numerous endeavours,’ explained Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. ‘It was total madness that Londoners had to travel to the mountains of Chile or to Exmoor, wherever they are, to get a decent view of the night sky.’
So the author(s) of the piece know their stuff: the Atacama Desert in Chile is widely recognised as one of the very best places for stargazing on the planet, while Exmoor became an International Dark Sky Reserve in November 2011, following on from Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park in 2009, and Sark Dark Sky Island in 2010.
The article introduces me as:
UK astronomer Steve Owens, chair of the IDA‘s Dark Sky Places Development Committee
again true, but not nearly so widely known. They must really have done their homework on this story. They then put words in my mouth that are entirely reasonable:
‘To be declared an International Dark-Sky Reserve,’ he explained, ‘an area must possess an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights. Light pollution from conurbations is the most significant barrier to this aspiration, and areas in London possess quite exceptional challenges in that respect.’
Ha! Very true. Then the article continues:
As part of the bid for Reserve status for Ealing, street lights were disabled within a ten mile radius… In addition, local byelaws were passed to enforce the use of blackout curtains after dark within the Reserve area. Car headlights and other sources of light, necessary to facilitate travel, were required to be red in order to not affect night vision.
From now on my analysis of this article might read as somewhat po-faced, as I point out their errors, but it does at least allow me to talk a little bit about what it means to be a Dark Sky Place.
The IDA doesn’t require the extinguishing of all street lights, nor black out curtains, nor red car headlights. All nice ideas though, from an astronomical point of view. Just not very practical.
The article then quotes several fictitious Londoners:
‘Since the changes, I have been almost constantly working outside at night,’ said emergency paramedic and ambulance crewperson, Ursula Major. ‘I often point out the constellations to distract RTA and other casualties from their injuries.’ [actually, studies have shown no connection between reduced light at night and RTAs.]
‘Sometimes,’ admitted Leo Regulus, an unemployed young person from Boston Manor, ‘I stop when lootin’ from Ealin’ Broadway ta wunda at the splenda of the Miwkey Way. Last week,’ he continued, ‘I even went back ta Argos ta nick a Newtonian reflecta telescope, init.’ [similarly, there is no good evidence that reduced light at night increases crime.]
Astronomers from across the UK have visited Ealing to avail themselves of its crystal clear view of the heavens. ‘Many initially complained about mugging and the loss of equipment,’ admitted sergeant Izar Bootes from the Metropolitan Police, ‘but the ability to repurchase their kit, or better gear, at Leeland Road market on Saturday mornings has more than compensated for such inconveniences.’ [see above]
Even everyone’s favourite astronomer Prof Brian Cox gets a mention:
The quality of the sky over Ealing means that key astronomical features are clearly visible for the first time in over two centuries. The police have been inundated by calls from anxious residents, worried about the appearance of strange white dots in the night sky.
‘It looks like that Brian Cox bloke was telling the truth, after all,’ said one amazed Northfields resident.
Make sure you read the whole article, but remember: the London borough of Ealing isn’t really an International Dark-Sky Reserve!