…continuedEverything You Ever Wanted to Know About Light Pollution
Full-cutoff shielding in light fixtures is the essential remedy for both glare and skyglow. A lamp should send all its light more or less down where the light is intended to be used, not upward or sideways. "Full cutoff" is usually taken to mean that no light rays from the fixture go above the horizon, and that at least 90 percent of the light is blocked in the near-sideways range from 0° to 20° below the horizontal plane.
Light that shines in this near-sideways range contributes nothing to most lighting needs. It is merely a dazzling annoyance in the eyes of people nearby and dissipates uselessly into the distance. Light spilling upward, of course, is wasted totally. Tremendous above-the-horizon waste is tolerated because it goes unseen; people who install lights don't normally check them at night from high in the air! The electricity cost of this wasted light has been put at $1 billion to $2 billion annually in the United States.
Near-horizontal light is especially destructive. A light ray aimed straight up is usually not the worst kind. It escapes into space quickly, passing through what astronomers call one "air mass." A ray aimed 10° above the horizon, on the other hand, passes through 5.6 times as much atmosphere — 5.6 air masses — polluting all the way. A ray that skims the horizon pollutes up to 10 air masses, though not much of the light is left by the time it goes through the last few of them.
The situation is comparable to atmospheric extinction of starlight arriving in the opposite direction. When a light ray travels straight up through clear air from sea level, only 20 to 30 percent of it is absorbed or scattered by the atmosphere. The rest escapes harmlessly into space. When the same ray is aimed 5° above the horizon, about 90 percent of it is absorbed or scattered. Thus it causes three or four times as much pollution, when all the damage is summed up over an area many miles across. (That, anyway, is the situation in clear air. Aerosols can complicate the picture.)
Add the fact that most lights provide some blockage at high angles, and it becomes clear that most of the light-pollution war will be won or lost in the narrow battleground just a little way above the horizon. At least this is true at sites fairly far from the offending lights — the semirural areas that seem to have suffered the worst degradation in the last 20 years. Right inside a city, rays at higher angles (and reflected from the ground) are the primary problem.