Chile’s night sky protectors seek legal defense for the stars
On the open expanses of Chile’s high-altitude Atacama desert, bright stars pierce an ink-black firmament, a lure for stargazers looking for wonder and astronomers seeking signs of life on distant planets.
Chile’s arid northern deserts have attracted massive investment in telescopes in recent years and the country is home to nearly half the world’s astronomical observatories.
Now, under threat from light pollution coming from urban sprawl and development, Chile’s environmental defenders are starting a fight to keep the skies dark, with legal muscle and new protections.
Cristóbal de la Maza, superintendent of Chile’s environmental protection body, told Reuters the agency was preparing legal suits against companies that skirt regulations, polluting the skies with artificial ‘cold light’ that dims the brightness of stars and planets.
Regulators have already filed charges against retailers Cencosud and Tottus, as well as the corporate building at BHP’s Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine. A decision in the cases is pending.
BHP and Tottus parent Falabella said in statements that they had presented corrective plans to the agency. Cencosud did not reply to a request for comment.
De la Maza said each of the companies was exceeding limits on light emissions, and that charges against other companies were pending.
“We hope to file charges against other firms where we have detected infractions for quite some time,” de la Maza said. “We have been able to accelerate the sanctions needed to act as a deterrent.”
The government is also readying a list of areas that would benefit from special protections to reduce light pollution.
Companies operating in those places could be subject to stricter laws and tougher enforcement.
A commission made up of six experts, convened by the Ministry of Science, will deliver at the end of the year a “list of suggested geographical areas and the criteria for their protection,” the ministry confirmed to Reuters.