One of Mitzpeh Ramon’s greatest tourist assets is the nighttime observation of stars – and in particular a meteor shower that takes place every August. This natural resource was under threat of being hidden from view by artificial light sources (“light pollution”), so last week the local council decided to approve a series of guidelines for reducing the strength of artificial light in the desert city.
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The new guidelines were prepared with the help of the volunteer group Or Mekhuvan, whose members work to promote energy savings in street lighting and a reduction of light pollution. “The guidelines are crucial because the community has extensive development plans,” says Itay Aner, director of the environmental department in the Mitzpeh Ramon local council.
“Implementation of the new instructions will entitle the community to receive the ‘maintaining dark skies’ status, awarded by an international organization called the International Dark-Sky Association,” says Dror Dvash, director general of Mitzpeh Ramon council. “The community will join a small number of communities worldwide that meet this standard. That, of course, will also enable us to save money in operating lighting.”
In order to create a darker situation, it will be necessary to take care of the lighting in streets, city squares and private yards as well as on street signs, parking lots and access roads. According to the new guidelines, it will be forbidden to use flashing lights and light that is directed upward, as well as spotlights. They determine the limitations on the intensity of the light in lighting fixtures to be installed in the community. According to the instructions, street lights must be dimmed for reduced emission between midnight and 6 A.M. (with the exception of intersections and pedestrian crossings).
“We photographed Mitzpeh Ramon from a distance of 25 kilometers (15 miles) and you can clearly see the intensity of the artificial light,” said Michael Tzukran, an amateur astronomer who is a member of Or Mekhuvan. “I really hope the local council will implement the guidelines and will soon replace the lighting fixtures with fixtures angled toward the ground.”
“The situation in recent years is definitely not good,” agrees Aner. “For one thing, several gas stations were built and each one of them emits strong artificial light. I hope we’ll be able to get the cooperation of the Israel Prison Service and the army, whose facilities are located near the community, and whose lighting also has to be planned differently. We’ll also have to approve bylaws about lighting, but that can take time. That’s why we decided to approve the guidelines now, and contractors putting up new buildings and business owners will be obligated to act accordingly.”
It should be noted that in recent years the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has been working to turn the Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve into a site that will receive International Dark-Sky Association status as a nature reserve where the possibility of observing starlight is maintained. To that end, changes have been made in the lighting in the reserve’s overnight parking lots. There is also a walking path containing a substance that absorbs sunlight during the day, and emits it as glowing light at night: this removes the need for artificial lighting along the path. But these efforts won’t be enough if the community of Mitzpeh Ramon, which overlooks the crater, doesn’t reduce the intensity of the artificial light it emits.