Is Space Law Really That Far Over Your Head?

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  Multimedia Essay By: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights  

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 Part 1 of 2 Editions  – To view an alternative graphic format see: 
Science Tech Tablet | A site dedicated to technology, science and learning.
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Look upwards toward the sky on the next clear day or cloudless night and behold the new legal frontier unfold before your eyes. A mere 65 miles above sea-level, our atmosphere and gravity dwindles into space, where satellites begin to glide silently over Earth’s thin atmosphere. Only a fraction of human history has passed since man-made satellites were far and few between — but that time has since slipped away, replaced by an ever tightening metal jacket of used and disregarded manufactured, celestial artifacts. Almost at the start of the space race, “Space Law” was launched and it’s had an uphill battle to catchup with the unforeseen consequences of humanity’s reach for the heavens.

The German V-2 rocket was a sophisticated liquid propellant rocket, which first entered outer-space in 1942.
The German V-2 rocket was a sophisticated liquid propellant rocket, which first entered outer-space in 1942.

At times, defining what Space Law is or does is a nebulous task. This new form of law can be so abstract and full of contradictions that it resembles an art, rather than a science. Like creating a massive sculpture, it’s often a process which involves slow progress — developing over time through stages of careful analysis and discernment. Space Law will continue to transform itself by maturing, developing refinements and taking on new dimensions as needed.

There are basically three forms of law, which make up Space Law: 1.) Regulatory Law – sets standards which must be met for securing authority to launch a rocket vehicle.  2.) Tort Law – concerns damages which occur as a result of debris from rocket launch accidents or space and terrestrial impacts from orbital debris. 3.) Common Law – could be applied to circumstances relating to a private entity’s negligence, which causes damage from its orbital debris.

Back To Rocket Science Basics.

The basic blueprint for all modern rockets used in today’s space programs originated from the American physicist, Dr. Robert Goddard, who is considered the father of modern rockets. By the late 1930s, Goddard had tested a liquid propellant rocket — the rocket used vanes or fins near the thrust nozzle to help initial launch guidance and a gyro control for flight over the desert in New Mexico. The German scientist, Wernher von Braun’s V-2 rocket borrowed Goddard’s basic design for refinement and increased its scale for later mass productionUsed by the German military towards the end of World War II, V-2 or Aggreat-4 ( A-4) was successfully launched in 1942, making it the first human made object to enter outer space.

The V-2 was a sophisticated liquid propellant, single stage rocket, which had a top speed of 5,760 km/h (3,580 mph) and could reach an altitude of 206km (128 miles.) At the end of the war, the Americans, British and Russians took possession of all remaining V-2 rockets, along with German engineers, technicians and scientists working on the program. A high priority was placed on researching its capabilities, re-engineering and developing it for national security.

— The Paul Allen Flying Heritage Museum, located at Paine Field, Everett, WA, recently added an authentic V2 rocket for display.

American scientists James Van Allen and Sydney Chapman were able to convince the U.S. Government of the scientific value for launching rockets carrying satellites into space. A scientific effort in the early 1950s was begun, with the plan to launch American satellites by 1957 or 1958. The Russians surprised the World by launching the first satellite into orbit in 1957 named Sputnik.

First photograph from space & of the Earth, from a V-2 rocket in 1946 byU.S scientist.
First photograph from space & of the Earth in 1946, from a V-2 rocket at an altitude of 65 miles, by U.S. scientist. Photo: courtesy of U.S. Army
A modified V-2 rocket being launch on July 24, 1950. General Electric Company was prime contractor for the launch, Douglas Aircraft Company manufactured the second stage of the rocket & Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) had major rocket design roles & test instrumentation. This was the first launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
A modified V-2 rocket being launch on July 24, 1950. General Electric Company was prime contractor for the launch, Douglas Aircraft Company manufactured the second stage of the rocket & the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) had major rocket design roles & test instrumentation. This was the first launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo: courtesy of NASA/U.S. Army
Most major space portals or rocket launch site are located next to oceans or remote location to limit legal liability in case of failed launch. It's estimated 10 % of rocket launches end in failure. Photo illustration: David Johanson Vasquez ©
Most major space portals and rocket launch sites are located next to oceans or remote locations to limit legal liability in case of a failed launch. It’s estimated 8 % of rocket launches end in failure. Photo illustration: David Johanson Vasquez ©
What Goes Up Must Come Down.

Rocket launch programs have always had to contend with Newton’s law of gravity, today, these programs face new challenges with liability laws, to protect individuals and property from unexpected accidents.

Case Study:  The first time a major issue of liability occurred was in 1962, on a street within Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Apparently, a three-kilogram metal artifact from the Russian’s 1960, Sputnik 4 satellite launch, reentered the atmosphere unannounced, over an unsuspecting Midwest. The Russian’s denied it was theirs, fearing liability under international law. This event, helped set in motion, the 1963 Declaration on Legal Principals Governing the Activities of State in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space. As an international agreement, it puts forth the responsibility to the State which launches or engages the launching of objects into space as internationally responsible for damages caused on Earth. In 1967, the agreement was slightly modified and was titled “Outer Space Treaty 1967.” 

A photo illustration of space debris from a low Earth orbit reentering the atmosphere over a city. Earth has water covering 70% of its surface — when attempts fail to guide space debris towards open oceans, the chance for these falling objects to hit a populated area increase. Space Law sets the liability for damages caused by the space debris to the nation or agency responsible responsible to its original rocket launch.
A photo illustration of space debris from a low Earth orbit reentering the atmosphere over a city. Earth has water covering 70% of its surface — when attempts fail to guide space debris towards open oceans, the chance for these falling objects to hit a populated area increase. Space Law sets the liability for damages caused by the space debris to the nation or agency responsible for its original rocket launch.

By 1984, the United Nations General Assembly, had adopted five sets of legal principles governing international law and cooperation in space activities. The principles include the following agreements and conventions.“Outer Space Treaty” – the use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies (1967 – resolution 2222.) “Rescue Agreement” – the  agreement to rescue Astronauts/Cosmonauts, the Return of Astronauts/Cosmonauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Space (1968 – resolution 2345.) “Liability Convention” – the Convention on International Liability for Damaged Caused by Space Objects (1972 – resolution 2777.) “Registration Convention” – the registration of  Objects Launched into Outer Space (1975 – resolution 3235.) “Moon Agreement” – the agreement Governing the Activities of  States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1979 – resolution 34/68.)

Because so many languages are involved with these international agreements, terms used in Space Law, often gets lost in translation. There are linguistic limitations and general lack of necessary definitions to adequately cover specific space concepts and activities using Space Law. Each Nation has its own agenda and vision concerning the development of space — then throw in multinational companies and things get really diluted when it comes to working out agreements regarding laws governing space.

Although most large "space junk" is monitored and efforts are made for reentry over uninhabited areas, satellites or sections of rockets can potentially fall anywhere.
Although most large “space debris” is monitored and great efforts are made for reentry to take place over uninhabited areas – satellites or sections of rockets can potentially fall anywhere.
Cuba Gives A New Meaning To A Cash Cow.

Case Study:  In November of 1960, the second stage of a U.S. A Thor rocket fell back to Earth and killed a cow grazing in Eastern Cuba. The final settlement required the U.S. Government to pay Cuba $2 million dollars in compensation — creating the world’s first “Cuban Cash Cow.”

Dramatic Rocket Launch Failures Associated With Space Exploration.

It’s estimated since the 1950s, of the nearly 8,000 rockets launched for space related missions, 8 % of rocket launches ended in failure (2012 spacelaunchreport.com.) The resulting anomalies have cost the lives of hundreds of astronauts, cosmonauts and civilians along with billions of dollars in losses. Here’s an abbreviated list of dramatic and tragic events associated with rocket launch failures. WA Okang SatDshBP_e1103

Vanguard TV3, December 9, 1957 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida (U.S.) was the first U.S. attempt at sending a satellite into orbit.  A first event of its kind to use a live televised broadcast, which ended by witnessing Vanguard’s explosive failure. Unfortunately this launch was a rushed reaction to the Soviet Union’s surprise success of launching the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, on October 23, 1957.

Vostok rocket, March 18, 1980, launched from Plesetsk, Russia (the world’s busiest spaceport). While being refueled the rocket exploded on the launch pad, killing 50, mostly young soldiers. (Source: New York Times article, published September 28, 1989)

Challenger STS-51-L Space Shuttle disaster, January 28, 1986, launched from Kennedy Space Center (U.S.) marked the first U.S. in-flight fatalities. After only 73 seconds from lift-off, faulty O-ring seals failed, releasing hot gases from the solid propellant rocket booster (SRB), which led to a catastrophic failure. Seven crew members were lost, including Christy McAullife,  selected by NASA’s Teacher in Space Program. McAullife was the first civilian to be trained as an astronaut — she would have been the first civilian to enter space, but tragically, the flight ended a short distance before reaching the edge of space. Recovery efforts for Challenger were the most expensive of any rocket launch disaster to date.

Long Mark 3B rocket launch, payload: American communication satellite, built by Space Systems Loral – February 14, 1996 in Xichang (China) – two seconds into launch, rocket pitched over just after clearing the launch tower and accelerated  horizontally a few hundred feet off the ground, before hitting a hill 22 seconds into its flight. The rocket slammed into a hillside exploding in a fireball above a nearby town, it’s estimated at least 100 people died in the resulting aftermath. Click on this link to read the complete eyewitness story. →    Disaster at Xichang | History of Flight | Air & Space Magazine

Delta 2, rocket launch – January 1997, Cape Canaveral (U.S.) – this rocket carried a new GPS satellite and ends in a spectacular explosion. Video link included to show examples of  worst case scenario of a rocket exploding only seconds after launch (note brightly burning rocket propellant cascading to the ground is known as “firebrand”.)  The short video has an interview with Chester Whitehair, former VP of Space Launch Operations Aerospace Corporation, who describes how the burning debris and toxic hydrochloric gas cloud fell into the Atlantic Ocean from the rocket explosion. Rocket launch sites and Spaceports are geographically chosen to mitigate rocket launch accidents . Click on this video link to see the rocket mishap. →    US rocket disasters – YouTube

Titan 4, rocket launch – August 1998, Cape Canaveral (U.S.) the last launch of a Titan rocket – with a military, top-secret satellite payload, was the most expensive rocket disaster to date – estimated loss of $ 1.3 Billion dollars.

VLS-3 rocket, launch  – August 2003, Alcantara (Brazil) – rocket exploded on the launch pad when the rocket booster was accidentally initiated during test 72 hours before its scheduled launch. Reports of at least 21 people were killed at the site.

World_spaceport-InterAf_Map

Global location, GPS coordinates & rocket debris fields of major Spaceports & launch sites. ( Click on map to enlarge)
Quiz ??? – Do you see any similarities in the geographic locations used for these launch sites? What advantages do these locations have regarding “Space Law?” For most rocket launches, which site has the greatest geographic advantage & why; which has the least advantage & why?
Location, Location, Location Benefits Rocket Launch Sites.

If you zoom into the above World map with its rocket launch sites, you’ll notice all the locations gravitate toward remote regions. Another feature most Spaceports share is large bodies of water located to the east, with the exception of the U.S. Vandenberg site. Less likely hood of people or property being harmed by a rocket which could experience a catastrophic failure is why oceans make a great safety barrier.  The legal liability for a launch vehicle is why all ships and aircraft are restricted from being anywhere near a rocket’s flight path. The rocket debris fields are marked with red highlights, this fallen debris is a highly toxic form of unspent fuel and oxidizers.

Most rockets are launched towards an easterly direction due to the Earth’s eastern rotation, which aids the rocket with extra momentum. An exception for an east directional launch is Vandenberg site in California, which launches most of its rockets south for polar orbits used by communication and mapping satellites.

Launching rockets closer to the equator gives a launch vehicle one more advantage — extra velocity gained from the Earth’s rotation near its equator. At the equator, our planet spins at a speed of 1675 kph (1040 mph,) compared to a spot near the Arctic Circle, which moves at a slower, 736 kph (457 mph.) Even the smallest advantage gained in velocity means a rocket requires less fuel to reach “escape velocity.” This fuel savings translates to a lighter launch vehicle, making the critical transition of leaving Earth’s gravitational field quicker.

The next edition of the Space Law series includes:
Potential Minefield Effects From Space Debris And The Regulatory Laws To Help Clean It Up.
Will Asteroid Mining Become The Next Big Gold Rush And What Laws Will Keep The Frontier Order?
Links And Resources For Space Law.

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International space law is emerging from its infancy, attempting to more clearly define itself from a nebulous amalgam of; agreements, amendments, codes, rules, regulations, jurisdictions, treaties and non-binding measures. There exists today, enough legal framework for commercial interest to move cautiously towards developing outer space. However, with the unforeseen variables & dynamics of space activities, exceptions will be made and rules will be stretched, if not broken to accommodate necessity, justification or exculpation. ~

Surprise space mission featured videos: Click → Boards of Canada – Dawn Chorus – YouTube   

→     Boards of Canada – Music is Math (HD)

→     Boards of Canada – Gemini – Fan Video on Vimeo
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Links And Resources For Space Law.

The Space Review: International space law and commercial space activities: the rules do apply

Outlook on Space Law Over the Next 30 Years: Essays Published for the 30th … – Google Books

“SPACE FOR DISPUTE SETTLEMENT MECHANISMS – DISPUTE RESOLUTION MECHANISM” by Frans G. von der Dunk

Asteroid mining: US company looks to space for precious metal | Science | The Guardian

Planetary Resources – The Asteroid Mining Company – News

5 of the Worst Space Launch Failures | Wired Science | Wired.com

Orbital Debris: A Technical Assessment

NASA Orbital Debris FAQs

‎orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/library/IAR_95_Document.pdf

A Minefield in Earth Orbit: How Space Debris Is Spinning Out of Control [Interactive]: Scientific American

SpaceX signs lease agreement at spaceport to test reusable rocket – latimes.com

Earth’s rotation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Space Review: Spacecraft stats and insights

Space Launch Report

V-2 rocket – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Billionaire Paul Allen gets V-2 rocket for aviation museum near Seattle – Science

Germany conducts first successful V-2 rocket test — History.com This Day in History — 10/3/1942

Part 1 of 2 editions – please check back soon for the conclusion of this essay. 
Photo illustration by: David Johanson Vasquez, using a NASA photo of Skylab.

Photo illustration of space debris by: David Johanson Vasquez, using a NASA photo of Skylab.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nG9LUSf_qK8 

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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