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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 August, 2004, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
UK withdraws relay support

By Brady Haran
BBC iCan reporter

Europe at night - Nasa

A plan to celebrate the Year of Physics by illuminating the night sky will not be backed by the UK physics community.

The "optical relay" proposed for next year involves people shining lights skyward to mark the 50th anniversary of Albert Einstein's death.

However the UK-based Institute of Physics has told organisers it will not back the plan because of a "public perception" that physicists are clashing with astronomers.

BBC News Online reported last week that some astronomers thought the relay was sending a message that light pollution was acceptable.

Professor Peter Kalmus - who represents the Institute of Physics on the World Year of Physics steering group - told BBC News Online that the relay itself would not generate much light pollution.

See some examples of light-polluted skies

But the institute was swayed by the possibility of a public clash with astronomers.

He said: "The idea that physicists would do something to harm astronomy is absurd, but it is conceivable that this might be the public perception."

Professor Kalmus said relay organisers had received many emails since the relay was made public.

He said: "Some complaints were merely abusive and appeared to be based on ignorance.

"But others were more thoughtful and pointed out that although the scheme would not affect astronomical observations, it could set a bad precedence, for example to commercial organisations that might wish to illuminate the night sky with advertising."

University of Leicester astronomer Darren Baskill, from the Campaign for Dark Skies, described the institute's decision as "a victory in the UK at least".

The man behind the plan, Dr Max Lippitsch from the University of Graz in Austria, last week defended the relay.

He said: "This will result in a tiny flash of light compared to the enormous light pollution produced steadily by our civilization."

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