Light Emitting Diodes and Astronomy - a chance for restoration of the dark night sky - or for further loss

Across the planet, conventional light sources such as high pressure sodium, are rapidly being replaced by light emitting diodes (LEDs). As light fixtures are being replaced, there is a tremendous opportunity for restoration of dark night skies through replacement of poorly shielded fixtures by fully shielded fixtures. However, it is critically important to limit the amount of blue light from the LEDs.

Sales people are strongly promoting LEDs with high correlated color temperature (CCT), such as 5000K. They are promoting them on energy efficiency grounds - higher energy efficiency is easier to sell. These LEDs have tremendous amounts of blue light near 450 nm. The photopic human eye is relatively insensitive to this blue light, but the dark adapted scotopic eye is much more sensitive, and CCDs are also very sensitive to this wavelength of light. As a consequence, both professional and amateur astronomers are very seriously impacted by high CCT LED lighting. The sodium lighting that the LEDs are replacing has relatively little blue light. Blue light is strongly scattered by air molecules in the atmosphere.

Use of high CCT LED lighting will cause further deterioration of night sky quality.

In contrast, use of LED lighting with low CCT (e.g., 2400K or 2700K), or use of filters to remove the blue light, can restore the dark night sky. LED lighting is much easier to direct, meaning that an area such as a roadway can be lit with many less lumens with LEDs compared to conventional lights such as high pressure sodium. And use of fully shielded fixtures will eliminate direct uplighting.

It is therefore critically important at this time to require that all new LED lighting be fully shielded, and for strong limits to be placed the amount of blue light from LEDs. This is crucial near observatories, but is important everywhere.

Richard Wainscoat

AUTHORS/INSTITUTIONS: R. Wainscoat, Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, UNITED STATES


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