Holiday lights + Inversion = An astronomer’s worst nightmare

Holiday lights may bring festive cheer for neighborhoods, but they also bring increased levels of light pollution. Salt Lake City already has a light pollution problem and unlike normal city nights in which businesses and homes flip the switch around midnight, Christmas lights shine bright colors from thousands of points skyward all night long. Additionally, the 24-hour light show demands more energy, which contributes to air pollution and the dreaded inversion. The inversion sits in the valley like a dirty lid, blocking the telescope’s ability to make observations. The pollution acts like a diffuser by scattering light from the ground, making it even harder to spot the faint twinkling of stars and other celestial objects.

Paul Ricketts, astrophotopher and director of the South Physics Observatory at the U is available to discuss why light pollution and the inversion turn his holiday star-gazing into a nightmare.

Paul Ricketts |
Lisa Potter | science writer |