Dark Skies Initiative

McDonald Observatory, Oil and Gas Organizations Collaborate to Reduce Light Pollution in West Texas; Issue Recommended Lighting Practices Document and Explanatory Video



• Railroad Commission of Texas Reminds Operators to Reduce Light Near McDonald Observatory, issues Notice to Operators.  Railroad Commission of Texas (February 2016 & 2019).

• Dark Skies Initiative Video  (3:20).  Produced by Texan by Nature.

• Recommended Lighting Practices for OILFIELD LIGHTING (2.0 MB PDF).

• Explanatory Video for Recommended Lighting Practices.

McDonald Observatory, Oil and Gas Organizations Collaborate to Protect Night Skies. Press Release, July 9, 2018.

• Presentation to Executive Oil Conference.  (November 2018).

• Upgraded Rig Lighting Improves Night Time Visibility While Reducing Stray Light and the Threat to Dark Skies in West Texas. Society of Petroleum Engineers (March 2015).

• No Ordinary Camera. McDonald Observatory adopts all sky photometry system developed by the National Park Service.

Dark Skies Initiative selected by Texan by Nature as a 2018 Conservation Wrangler recipient.

• Single page Dark Skies Initiative flier for the oil and gas industry.  McDonald Observatory and Texan by Nature.



• LED Lighting for Oil and Gas Facilities.  IEEE Xplore (October 2014).

• Oil vs. astronomy: The race to protect the night sky in West Texas.  Dallas Morning News (January 2019).

Texas Collaboration Protects Dark Skies. International Dark-sky Association blog post.

• A Radio Documentary: "Dark Skies, Dark Energies", by Ian Lewis, Marfa Public Radio (December 2017).

McDonald Observatory works with energy companies to stop light pollution. My San Antonio (October 2017).

• Oil field flares and lights creeping closer to the famed McDonald Observatory.  San Antonio Express News (April 2017).

When Staying in the Dark is the Brightest Idea.  Permian Basin Petroleum Association Magazine (September 2017).




Preserving Texas' Night Skies.  Tri-fold brochure suitable for printing.  McDonald Observatory and Texan by Nature.

Good and not so good light fixtures compared   (PDF).

• An excellent resource is the International Dark-sky Association.

• Resources and activities for teachers and educators:  Dark Skies Rangers Program.

How Dark is Your Sky?  AstroBob.

• The Strange Scourge of Light Pollution.  A ten minute YouTube video.

Lights at Night from Space.  Lighttrends.  Map showing nighttime lighting around the world as seen by the VIIRS satellite and allowing measurement of changes in upward radiance over time.  (Note:  Given the spectral sensativity of the VIIRS camera, blue light is underrepresented.)

• Our nights are getting brighter, and Earth is paying the price.  National Geographic (April 2019).

• How and Why to Reduce Light Pollution on Your Property.  Hello Homstead (January 2019).

• The Vanishing Night: Light Pollution Threatens Ecosystems.  The Scientisit (October 2018).

How the marvel of electric light became a global blight to health.  Aeon (August 2018).

About Light Pollution:

Three-minute dark skies videoThree-minute dark skies video

What is light pollution?

Light pollution is any adverse effect of artificial light at night, including sky glow, impaired visibility from glare, light trespass, energy waste, and more. 

Does it really matter?

YES! Light pollution wastes energy and money, disrupts global wildlife and ecological balance, has been linked to negative consequences in human health, and negatively affects astronomers and scientists. Read on to learn more about specific issues.

What can I do?

There is a WIN-WIN SOLUTION to light pollution! By changing outdoor lighting practices, you can prevent light pollution while putting more light where you want it using less electricity. Read on to find out how to make a positive difference.

A billboard as an example of wasted light.A billboard as an example of wasted light.

Negative Effects of Light Pollution

• COSTS: In the United States $10s of billions annually in electricity costs are wasted shining light upward at night. These numbers do not include the costs of producing the energy to generate electricity.

• ENERGY CONSUMPTION: Most of the energy required to power all of the wasted light comes from burning fossil fuels, contributing to other types of pollution.

• HEALTH: New studies point to dramatic health consequences from the disruption of the natural human day/night cycle. Unnatural light at night affects hormone production and reduces the strength of the immune system.

• SAFETY: Vision is impaired by "glare" from overly bright light sources, reducing sensitivity to fine details and color perception, especially in elderly people. Brighter lights cause shadows to appear darker.

• THE ENVIRONMENT: Artificial light at night has been shown to disrupt the mating, migration, and hunting behaviors of many different species, and consequently the ecological community as a whole.

• LOSS OF NIGHTTIME SKY: The view of stars and dark night skies is rapidly being lost. Generations are growing up having never seen the Milky Way. Sky glow resulting from artificial lighting dramatically hinders the science of astronomy.

  Light fixtures: good, bad and ugly Light fixtures: good, bad and ugly

 The Solution

We can reclaim vast amounts of energy currently wasted inadvertently into the night sky by poorly designed outdoor lighting. We can do this by using light fixtures that are shielded to reflect light down where it is needed, as well as using the smallest number of lights and lowest wattage bulbs necessary to effectively light an area.

• START WITH YOUR OWN HOME AND YARD: Lead by example in adopting good lighting practices. Put your own house in order first.

Good downward-pointing light fixtures at Sul Ross State University in Alpine TX.Good downward-pointing light fixtures at Sul Ross State University in Alpine TX.

• SPREAD THE WORD: The solution to light pollution is 90% education and public awareness, and 10% technology. Show examples of good lighting to your friends and neighbors. Once people see it in action, and understand its implications for cost savings and improved visibility, they are far more likely to adopt good lighting practices on their own.

• CREATE CHANGE IN YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT: One house doesn’t make much of a difference compared to an entire city and large retail installations. The best way to make a significant difference is to help your local government create a new lighting ordinance that regulates lighting practices on a large scale.


McDonald Observatory's Dark Skies Initiative is made possible in part through the generous support of Premack.com