Having lived in Southern California my whole life, the period known as Daylight Savings Time has always been something we are both used to, and not used to at the same time.
While there are arguments why it should and shouldn’t be implemented when it comes to energy saving and health reasons, this article is not going to dive into that too much.
In this article, I’m going to explain from the point of view of a dedicated observer and astrophotographer on why people like us call this period, “Dark Sky Robbing Time.”
We DO Understand The Practical Reasons Why it’s Implemented… But…
I get it! During the summer months, I completely understand why kids love the extra hour of daylight in the afternoon, and why adults love having more day time for leisure activities thanks to the later sunsets.
But if your leisure activity involves telescopes and is reliant on a night sky, then of course you want the night sky to arrive quicker and not get pushed later by DST! It was bad enough back when the switches happened in April and October, but at least it was only half the year. Once they switched the dates to March and November, that means we American astronomers spend 2/3 of the year having to deal with later sunset times than normal!
Even Without DST, Your Summer Days Are Already Longer In Mid Latitudes!
Remember that we are on a planet with a 23.5° tilt, and it is this tilt that causes the seasons and differences in sunlight hours between summer and winter as you get further away from the equator.
From Southern California, the longest summer days last 14½ hours and winter days last as short as 10. The difference increases as you go north, thus places like Denver and New York City near the 40th parallel experience around 15 to 9, Seattle and Calgary experience around 16 to 8 respectively. Just a few degrees further north, and you experience summer nights in June that never get truly dark!
Places further south of the 40th parallel like Los Angeles, Houston, and Miami get enough daylight hours year round and don’t really need DST. Still, I can understand the argument that places further north of the 40th parallel could use DST in winter, NOT during summer when you already have more than 15 hours with the Sun above the horizon!
And In the Sky We Have… The Sun… and… Blue Sky!
I operate public telescopes from 7:00 pm and close them at 9:30 pm as per park rules.
Obviously, night time observing from November through February isn’t an issue. On standard time nights, we are setting up after sundown, and have several hours of night sky to work with.
But once that first night in March after the Spring Forward rolls around, the switch is obvious, and now I begin setting up each session BEFORE the Sun goes down! Because of this, I’m initially dealing with a very limited catalog of objects that CAN be spotted while waiting for that hot bright Sun to go away, which doesn’t set until after 8 pm from June 3 to July 22!
Unless I have the Moon or a bright planet like Jupiter or Venus to work with, or can get a bright star like Sirius or Arcturus in the scope, then I’m out of luck. I can either show the Sun, which can look boring without any visible activity, or something distant in the landscapes nearby. At the same time, I’m biting my tongue when dealing with disappointed patrons that are mad at the fact we have our telescopes set up but can’t show anything else in the daytime until it gets dark enough. And when it finally does get dark enough to see something, the telescopes have to be closed soon after – sorry folks, line is closed… should have been here earlier!
From late May until late July, with the Sun going down around 8 pm, the 90-ish minute twilight period after sunset essentially means “true night” doesn’t begin until after it’s time to close! Come on now; is a 7 pm, non-DST sunset late enough?!
Astronomy is a NIGHT TIME ACTIVITY!
Did I mention that we need it to be night to seriously observe?! We DON’T like to observe during the day! It’s too hot and the Sun is too bright! Contrary to what some may think, The bright blue sky doesn’t just magically go away when pointing my telescope up during the daytime.
Summer observing is difficult without DST!
Realistically from an observer in Southern California, even though summer has about a 10 hour period when the Sun is below the horizon, you have to account for the total amount of twilight glow. Therefore, “true night” only lasts about 6-7 hours from May to July. That’s not a lot of valuable night time I get for observing/ imaging sessions.
And thanks to DST pushing the sunsets an hour later, then it doesn’t truly reach nightfall until around 9:30 – 10:00 pm!
“Oh… no, that star party starts too late, the kids go to bed around that time! Can’t it be done over the weekend?”
“Friday IS a weekend night!”
“Oh… well it’s still too late for us!”
“Great, come out in the winter when the night begins around 6 pm!”
“Oh No… it’s too cold for us!”
By the time the summer constellations like Sagittarius and Scorpius are visible, people are already reaching for that pillow! This makes it especially hard to get children interested in telescope observing during their summer vacations, as parents don’t want to keep their kids out too late. What if “good planets” like Jupiter and Saturn are currently visible in that part of the sky during the summer months? Then you early birds are out of luck!
If DST wasn’t implemented in the summer, then nighttime observing would begin at more comfortable times. It’s a lot easier to sell a deep sky star party that begins earlier versus later!
DST RUINS any Chance of Summer Observing For Many People!
Sure, 6-7 hours of true night is a short amount of observing time during Southern California summers, but it could be worse! The more north I go, the duration of true night shrinks thanks to the longer twilight periods and shorter nights! The most northern parts of the continental US experience nights that last less than 2 hours in June, and less than 5 for most summer months. Summer observing in Canada? Alaska? England? Northern Europe? Forget it!
And again, this is without DST! Thanks to DST pushing true nightfall close to midnight in these places basically means you’re not observing unless you plan to stay up all night – it’s not a problem if you’re young, but as you get older those days gradually get behind you!
In that sense, I guess I could say I’m fortunate I don’t live further north. Perhaps I should move down to the tropics!
Blah Blah Energy Blah Blah Arizona/ Hawaii
Nowadays, many studies have shown that it really doesn’t save energy, and you can’t deny that a lot of people hate the time changes because of disrupting sleep patterns, an increase in stress induced heart attacks, plus car accidents on the time change dates.
There’s also a period where USA and Canada are in DST, but Europe still isn’t, which I’m sure messes up some travel schedules!
I’m not going to go too much into it, as there are plenty of other published articles that explain that better. Here are links to a few:
I Say Stick to Standard Time
If there is any common ground, I think we can all agree that we should just stick to one time zone year round. For me, I say “stick to standard,” the way our time zones were originally designed. It should also be noted that most countries around the world do NOT, or no longer observe DST!
Sure, I know I’m in a minority. I know plenty of people who wish to stick to DST year round, but they’re also not reliant on the night sky for telescope observing. With a little research, you can learn that permanent DST has been tried before in the USA and Russia and both times, it was abandoned after people realized they hated later sunrises in the winter!
Despite this, certain states have passed a bill in recent years to implement permanent DST (thanks a lot, California voters!). It will still take an act of congress to allow them to observe DST year round. Until then, voters can always choose not have to observe DST at all, like Arizona and Hawaii.
So the debate goes on. If Congress listened to astronomers, we’d stick to standard!
TL;DR – Astronomy is a NIGHT Time activity… we like our sunsets earlier and night to come at comfortable times!
I hope this explains to a casual reader why backyard astronomers hate Daylight Savings Time, and wish it was abolished completely. If you yourself also hate DST, you are not alone!
Please share this with people who wonder why or share the same sentiment! If you hate time changes so much, you do realize you can vote to stick with standard time year round, right?
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