How much light pollution — which makes it more difficult to see the stars and night sky in Missouri?
That is exactly what the Missouri chapter of the International Dark Sky Association and Perryville is working to find out.
Perryville is one of 12 cities in Missouri that has taken part Sky Quality Meter program that began earlier this month, which uses an instrument to measure how dark the sky is in one location.
“The meters are measuring sky brightness 24 hours per day,” said Don Ficken, president of the Missouri Dark Skies Chapter. “We want to be able to create a baseline for our state, with these meters all over the state to see how light pollution is changing over time. We hope that with the data, it alerts people to turn off their lights for a little while and not just pull down the shades in their living room.
The soda bottle sized instrument uses a camera to measure and collect data every five minutes, and will be collected by Perryville Director of Heritage Tourism Trish Erzfeld twice per month and sent off to be studied.
“We really want to see how the data we collect in Missouri compares to that around the country to see if it is reliable,” Ficken said. “We also want to see if it changes over the course of a year and what could possibly be causing that change.”
Ficken noted that Perryville is one of the darker areas this far west, while many people go to Montana and Wyoming to experience dark skies. Erzfeld hopes that by sending in this data, it will help share that this area is great for night-time viewing.
“We are blessed here in Perry County because I believe we take such things as seeing a shooting star or identifying the big dipper for granted. There are some urban places that don’t have that natural luxury. The night sky is a beautiful and common sight that we are able to enjoy here giving little thought to the notion of if we couldn’t,” Erzfeld said. “We want other people to know about this area and hopefully share in what Perryville provides.”
Light pollution is a problem in big cities such as St. Louis not only for people and their ability to see the stars, but also animals.
“It’s a problem, really everywhere,” Ficken said. “For example, the birds come flying through as they migrate and run into buildings. But it’s not just birds, its moths, bees, and other pollinators that are affected by lights and with this project we are hoping that we make people aware of the problem.”
Perryville is part of a zone in the southeastern part of the state that he hopes to create, similar to the state parks system. Zones include Kirksville, Joplin, and Kansas City.
Erzfeld noted that if any school classes or high school students want to be able to look into the device for future projects to contact her at (573) 517-2069.