Blinded By Light, In The Middle Of Night

 
Multimedia eLearning program by: David A. Johanson © All Rights  — Second Edition

The author is a multimedia specialist, CTE instructor and a former Boeing scientific photographer. For an alternative formatted view of this program, please visit — www.ScienceTechTablet.wordpress.com

 

My photo wingman, Rick Wong and I headed into the heart of darkness in a quest for the Perseid meteor showers. Mount Rainier National Park, was our destination to use its iconic landmark for framing an infinite field of stars—far from the glare of city lights. Traveling at night in Rick’s new hybrid Ford Fusion, equipped with “information technology”—voice navigation, made it easy finding the park without using a map.

Arriving at our location, luminous stars lit up the night as expected, but we were surprised by some uninvited competition, which nearly stole the show.

A stunning view of Mount Rainier reflected in Reflection Lake, with the summer stars overhead. The pink and orange glow on the left side of the mountain is light pollution emitted from the City of Tacoma, approximately 65 miles northwest.

We found an ideal location above Reflection Lake to begin our photo shoot, with one of the Cascade Mountain’s most famous stratovolcano in the background. An unexpected warm light was glowing behind Mount Rainier, which I reasoned, was a faint remnant from the earlier sunset. However, the sun had set at least four hours earlier, so it couldn’t be the source of the illumination. Rick suggested “its light coming from the City of Tacoma,” located about 65 miles away. During a 20-second long exposures used to take an image of the snow-capped mountain, I began thinking about the effects caused by light pollution.
With a bright moon rising, we worked fast to keep up with the changing light, until its intensity eventually overpowered the stars.

Just now, the moon was rising higher into the night sky, it too was causing us to shift focus on what to photograph. Like a giant diffuse reflector, the moon reflected soft, filtered light onto a previously dark, formless landscape. Moonlight was beginning to compete with the canopy of stars’ brilliance, partially masking crystal clear views of the Milky Way, along with some meteor sightings. So being photo opportunist, we used the moonlight to illuminate shadow-detail on Rainier’s south face.

Like some sorcerer conjuring an intense cauldron of red light, the photographer adjusts his digital settings before Mount Rainier and her crown of stars above.

A Peaceful Paradise Lost                                                                                             There’s a tranquil feeling while in the process of taking long exposures at night; it’s normally quiet and not many visual distractions overwhelm the senses or interrupt your focus. I personally enjoy these rare opportunities of solitude, to visualize an image, using a minimal, Zen like perspective.

 

When a distraction, like a car suddenly rounding a corner occurs, it’s often an annoyance, which takes you out of the moment. My moment was taken by clusters of cars, with glaring lights as they came around a turn… just as the moon illuminated the mountain, as it was reflected onto a perfectly still lake.. Their headlights flooded the calm mirror-like water and stands of old growth trees beyond with glaring intensity— as I used my hands in an attempt to shield the lens from light flare. Finally, the cars diapered into the darkness with no more approaching vehicles until dawn.

Photo-illustration of micro light sources, which can cause light pollution by unintended spill-light.

Moving above the lake to find new angles for interesting compositions, I took notice of something not seen before. Lights of various colors were coming from photographers bellow me, created by their digital camera’s preview monitors and infrared sensors for auto focusing. With the low light-sensitive Nikon cameras I was using, these multicolored monitor lights, appeared like a bright flare on the long exposure images. Now, I had one more unwelcome light source to avoid, which required strategic timing in the photo’s exposures to minimize glare.

Again, my thoughts returned to the issues of light pollution. Recalling the time back home, when I attempted to photograph some constellations at night, only to have a neighbor’s motion sensor flood light, overwhelmed the backyard with brightness. The piercing light  forced me to find the last remaining, isolated shadowed corner of the yard.

My reminiscing was cut short by a distant, but bright, pinpoint of light from bellow Mount Rainier’s summit. Flashlights from mountain climbers near Camp Muir shined bright—like lighthouse beacons from the semi darkened rocks and glacier fields on the mountain. Even the faintest light can shine bright at night as was noted during World War II, when warships were forbidden from having any exterior lights on at night — including a lit cigarette, which posed a risk of being spotted from great distances by enemy submarines.

Lights from mountain climbers on the approach to the summit of Mount Ranier.

Encountering the Universe’s Brilliance                                                                       The improper, overuse of outdoor lighting has erased one of our basic and most powerful human experiences—encountering the universe’s brilliance with its galaxies and billions of stars shining in the night sky! Making visual contact with our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is one of the greatest shows seen from Earth.

 

In less than a century of civilization’s reliance on electric technology: two-thirds of the U.S., half of Europe and a fifth of people in the world—now live where they cannot see the Milky Way with the unaided eye. You can appreciate how we lost our stellar view by seeing aerial photos taken from orbiting spacecraft and the International Space Station. These startling images taken of the Earth at night, reveal a man-made galaxy of artificial light, which cancels out much of the real one in the sky above.

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Some years back, I was a part-owner in a small recreational ranch, in Eastern Washington’s, Okanogan County. Brining friends over from Seattle, it was often nighttime when we arrived. The instant of exiting the cars, was a startling event as the Milky Way’s intensity of light overwhelmed your senses. The “ranch” was remotely located, at about 5,000 feet in the mountains, near the Canadian border and 30-miles from the closest town. Days would go by where we didn’t see a car or even hear a small airplane go overhead… it was one of the most refreshing experiences of my life, to perceive nothing except wind going through trees and seeing only starlight at night for hours at a time.

Image courtesy of NASA

A television interview with the director of a major observatory in Southern California recounted when Los Angeles had its last electrical blackout —people were calling 911 and his observatory, with reports of strange, bright objects in the night sky. Actually, what the callers were seeing for the first time, was the Milky Way’s canopy of shining stars.

   

Image courtesy of NASA.

Besides forfeiting a life inspiring, wondrous view of the cosmos, there’s tangible losses associated with light pollution. Conservative estimates are—30 % of U.S. outdoor lighting is pointed skyward in the wrong direction, which wastes billions of dollars of electricity. The unnecessary practice of lighting clouds, burns more than 6 million tons of coal, which adds: harmful greenhouse gas emissions, along with toxic chemicals into our atmosphere and water.

Further scientific studies indicate wildlife is suffering the ill effects of excessive urban lighting. The City of Chicago has taken measures to turn off or dim its high-rise lighting to enable migrating birds to continue normal migration patterns. An increase in species of insects attracted to light along with rodents, which are drawn towards bright city lighting, is a growing concern to many scientists.

Heavy equipment product shots never look quite this good. Scheduled improvements to the viewing area above Reflection Lake, had some equipment, taking a nap, before going to work when the sun came up.

Education Is the Solution to Light Pollution                                                                    The reason light pollution continues to expand is, we have grown accustomed to its seemingly benign presence. After all, probably no one can point to a single case of a person killed from overexposure to light pollution. However, there is a growing correlation of health risks associated with overexposure from artificial light. Some of the main symptoms include, physical fatigue and damage to eyesight. This lighting health risk was recognized in 2009, when the American Medical Association officially established a policy, which supports the control of light pollution.

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Municipal lighting codes are beginning to help define and eliminate unnecessary light pollution. Lighting enforcement can create a more pleasing environment, by reducing excessive urban lighting, which causes fatigue from glare and cuts down on unnecessary electric utility cost. Redirecting outdoor lighting away from the sky where it is needlessly wasted is a simple and easy solution.

Installing motion detector security lights are another efficient and productive mitigation strategy. For security purpose, a light, which is triggered by motion is much more effective for crime prevention than a continuous floodlight. Motion detector lights have a clear advantage of focussing our attention onto an area, which is triggered by a sudden change from darkness to bright-light.

The light intensity of the Milky Way is a breathtaking wonder to witness at night —` unrestricted light-pollution has faded this wonder from what was once a valued human experience. You can see the Andromeda Galaxy in the right 1/3 of the frame. Nikon D700 – Nikkor 28mm lens @ F3.5 @ 20 seconds August 11 11:48 p.m.

 

The encouraging news is… the key to reducing light pollution is a simple matter of basic education and action. Public awareness of over-lighting requires a minimal expenditure, which will quickly pay for itself in energy savings and perhaps return the opportunity to experience one of the greatest shows seen from earth. ~

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Light pollution glossary:

Urban Sky glow: the brightening of the night skies over municipalities and communities, caused primarily from high-volumes  of collective, reflected light and poorly directed light, which is pointed upward or not shielded properly.

Light trespass: light falling or spilling into areas where it is not intended. Also know as “spill light” – as in municipal streetlights, which go beyond the intended illumination of street signs and sidewalks, causing an unwanted exterior lighting of residential homes.

Glare: A direct, bright or harsh light, which causes discomfort or pain. The effects of glare can be reduced or eliminated with the use of a shield or filter.

Uplight: Light angled inappropriately upward towards the sky and serving no purpose. Uplight washes out the night sky and reduces opportunities for astronomers and star-gazer to enjoy the beauty of the planets, moon and stars.

Light Clutter: Poorly planned, confusing and unpleasant use of grouped lights usually associated with urban or retail lighting. Retail business often trying to outdo the competition by using overly bright, multicolored or pulsating lights.

Links to articles & information on light pollution:

http://news.discovery.com/animals/light-pollution-a-growing-problem-for-wildlife.html

www.darksky.org/assets/documents/is001.pdf

www.njaa.org/light.html

www.skymaps.com/articles/n0109.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_pollution

ngm.nationalgeographic.com/geopedia/Light_Pollution      

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The Day-After 9/11…Ten Years After

Photos and text by: David Johanson Vasquez  © All Rights Reserved

Probably anyone reading this essay will never forget what they were doing on the day of and the following day-after the World Trade Center attack of 9/11.

An early start on a tragic morning—On September 11, 2001,  I got up early at 5:00 a.m. to begin packing for my fiancé and I’s flight from Seattle to Honolulu. After feeding the cats I made a cup of coffee, while listening to the morning news. It took a moment to register that there was a serious event taking place in New York City. I changed the channel… just to make sure there wasn’t some misreporting of what was happening.  In shock, I moved to wake my fiancé—informing her of something really bad was going to the east coast. We held each other while watching the news, then we began making phone calls to family and friends to see if they were watching what had just happened.

My memory accelerated into reverse, towards my first trip to New York City in 1998.  A cousin had taken me on a well planned tour of Lower Manhattan, where we visited the ‘”Twin Towers” to gain a most fantastic view of the City. Now… I kept wondering if my family and friends were okay in Manhattan… what was going on in their lives at this moment? More news reports of other horrible attacks, then a FAA directive announcement to recall and ground all flights in transit immediately. The information was approaching sensory overload. This situation was escalating into something extremely serious, chances were our wedding plans would be forced to hold, perhaps even indefinitely.

The eerie sound of silence—As evening approached, the directive to ground all aircraft began to create an eerie feeling. Our home, which we purchased just a few months before, is located north of Seattle in the city of Everett. Paine Field, a major regional airport is within a couple of miles of our home and Boeing assembles commercial aircraft there, including the Jumbo 747 as well as its 767 airliner, which were used in the terrorist attacks earlier that day.

What was so strange, was the silence of not hearing any aircraft sounds going overhead.  This somber stillness created a feeling straight out of a science fiction movie—in fact I notice a sustained absence of  any sounds; no car noise or people outside talking — as if the world was standing still within a vacuum. I forced myself from thinking… the years when I was a Boeing photographer, if I had photographed one of the 767 aircraft during its production cycle,  which had been used in the terrorist attacks.

Suspended animation — As the afternoon turned into evening, fighter jets appeared in the sky, pacing back and forth like a cat waiting to pounce on its pray. Later as night approached we could hear the steady high altitude drone of bombers and military transport aircraft flying towards Canadian airspace—heading north for an apparent polar route to reach intended deployments; it was obvious now, our nation was going to war.

I stayed up late to see if there would be other information, to let us know if airline flights were to resume. Having slept very little, I got up before light, preparing to depart for our pre-wedding flight to Honolulu.  As dawn arrived there was no definite news as to if flights would be resuming again; so we picked up my stepdaughter Dena, her husband Dave and son to go to the airport.

On the drive to Seattle/Tacoma International Airport, I recall our grandson Jacob asking why was our nation attacked, but none of us had an answer to offer which made sense.  Arriving at the airport was that returning feeling of, stepping into a set of some sci-fi feature, troops and police packing machine guns were on sentry;  just about everyone we saw looked like they were in a daze. One of my best friends I had known since we first met as Boeing photographers, came up and gave us the airline flight status. Rick and his wife Kathy had arrived the day before, to fly out for our wedding, but the 9/11 attacks halted all flights before they could board their plane.

It now was clear, no one would be flying for the foreseeable future, so we had our party of family and friends meet us at a nearby restaurant for a dialogue on an action plan. We decide to try postponing our wedding for one month, then, hopefully all of us would be able to fly out to Hawaii for our planned ceremony.

The resumed flight to paradise — In October we followed through with our wedding plans.  Our ceremony took place outside of Honolulu, on a beach, which was used in a famous kissing scene in the 1953 classic: “From Here to Eternity,” — starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. A month after the 9/11 attacks, we were some of the first travelers to arrive in Hawaii from the mainland.  The hotel’s front desk shared with us — how for the first few days following the attacks, most tourist did not leave their rooms for days… they just wanted to watch any news updates from television.

The shadow of judgement—The weeks following 9/11, I recall experiencing some undue scrutiny from a few strangers who gave hostile stares at me, due to my “Mediterranean appearance.” Part of my family heritage is Panamanian and the other Swedish; so if someone was judgmental and didn’t know anything about my background  — they might ignorantly try to project they’re suspicious spotlight onto me. We often forget of this misguided act of— “terrorism in the name of religion” — no one has suffered more wrongful deaths and injury than innocent Arab people, from many nations of the world.  The terrorist attacks were carried out by an extremely small group of people… representing their own narrow, hate consuming judgments towards the United States.  Blind-ignorance about our Nation’s true values, misguided the terrorist to believe attacks would succeed in crushing our will and faith. Actually, the 9/11 attacks created the opposite effect of what the Islamic Fascist’s intended goals were— it challenged us as a Nation to become a united people and use our collective-will to counter the terrorist’s misanthropic agenda.

Tour of tower two—In my 1998 tour of the World Trade Center’s tower two, I was first impressed with a beautiful water fountain sculpture at the base of the towers. Looking directly upwards, over a thousand feet towards the blue sky, the vertical lines of the twin towers appeared to merge together.

          

My cousin, Randy and I entered the towers to register for a trip to the Top of the World Observatory… we were clustered together with a group of about 20 people. All of us were going to the top floors, but first, a digital photo was taken of our group. Three uniformed security personnel were focused in on the monitors, studying the biometric photos, which were just taken of our group. Five years before, in 1993 the first terrorist attacks on the twin tower were carried out.  Since those previous attacks, the port authority used digital biometric surveillance in efforts for spotting terrorist attempting reconnaissance for another attack.

A community within itself—Once we de-boarded from a  thousand foot elevator ride to the 107th floor, I was impressed with a feeling of energy created by simultaneous activity and interaction. It was like a community within itself, with so many people of different nationalities speaking a variety of languages. I also recall a splendid collection of art on the walls, gift shops, information kiosk and exhibit displays.  Wonderful aromas of gourmet food wafted through the hallways from the famous “Windows of the World” restaurant, which had until the 2001 attacks, the highest-grossing revenue in the United States.     

A view from top of the world— Stepping onto the 110 floors “Top of the World” observation deck gave a feeling of sensory overload—a stunning, 360 degree panorama view of the surrounding mega metropolis was a powerful encounter. Just the week before, as I flew over New York City’s Manhattan districts, I experience something totally new from flying over an urban center. My impression was the city of New York is literally, a living entity in its own right. The metropolis’ massive size, density and texture appeared to have a unique personality… a consciousness of its own, which I wasn’t expecting to encounter.  Back on the observation deck, it was a photographer’s paradise for incredible aerial views of the City’s iconic architecture.

Twin towers architectural design—Completed in 1973, the twin towers were designed by a Seattle born architectMinoru Yamasaki was a first-generation Japanese American, whose innovative architecture style was used to design—The Pacific Science Center, for “The Century 21 Exposition/1962 Seattle Worlds Fair,” which shares similar design elements with the twin towers. Yamasaki also designed one of Seattle’s most daring pieces of architecture— the Rainier Tower, which is supported by a gravity defying, inverted pedestal! One more connection with the twin towers and Seattle is the architect’s, IBM Building design, which was used as a model for the NYC twin tower design. The twin towers architectural style is gothic modernism which can be seen used in most of Minoru’s designs (please see examples of gothic modernism elements in the photographs below.)

          

Inspiration found from the rising phoenix— It’s nearly 9:00 p.m. PDT on September 10th, as I’m finishing up my writing for the photo essay; “The Day After 9/11 – Ten Years After.”  I just finished watching an unexpected, major fireworks display, from our home’s second story window. It was coming from the town of Mukilteo, which is on Puget Sound, next to the Boeing Plant and Paine Field Airport.  Watching the pyrotechnic display, the words of our national anthem came to mind. In an instant, came an insight for me… a silver lining taken from our nation’s tragic sacrifice—illuminating a message from the darkness, like a powerful roman candle roaring upwards to the heavens as it releases spectacular multicolored content.

Despite a tragic attack, which Francis Scott Key refers to in tribute anthem for our country—  we, as in the spirit of our nation’s flag, are still here, firmly remaining strong and defiant.  Now, as New York City’s Freedom Towers are nearing completion, with their foundation next to the footprint of those former shinning twin towers, the spirit of our Nation is rising from the tragic ashes… to reach towards the heavens, once again.  ~

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