Light relief for star gazers

October 27, 1994

Cambridge astronomers, who have been battling with the sports fraternity over proposed floodlights at the university's new athletics track, have reached a compromise.

But a further battle looms over more powerful floodlights proposed for the university's new hockey pitches.

The 15 metre high floodlights are planned to be erected a kilometre south of the Institute of Astronomy. South is the direction in which most astronomers want to look in, says Roger Griffin, reader in observational astronomy at the institute. The lights form "quite a serious threat" to observation, he says.

Users of the institute include 300 undergraduates who belong to the astronomical society. "They represent the pool of people from which tomorrow's astronomers will be drawn," said Dr Griffin. It is important that they have practical experience to encourage them in astronomy, he says.

Other academics who live near the site, in west Cambridge, have contributed to a petition against the lights.

Christopher Jeans, member of the geology department, said: "I chose to live here at considerable cost so that I could have peace. There's tremendous local opposition."

But Tony Lemons, director of the department of physical education at the university, said that the sports development, which includes an athletics track and two hockey pitches, is essential for the local community and school children as well as for students. "It is the only athletics track in Cambridge," he said.

The astronomers say they have reached a compromise over lights for the athletics track which limits how often they are used and at what strength. Cambridge City Council will consider planning permission for the athletics track lights in a few weeks time. But the issue of the hockey pitch lights, which must be more powerful for safety reasons, has not been resolved.

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