by Chuck Dugan

“Well, do you want to be a superhero or not?”

They were still waiting for my answer, and I was struggling mightily to come up with a reason to accept their proposal.

“Okay, so what superpowers do I have?” I asked.


“Is there a salary increase or any kind of reward money involved?” I pretty much knew the depressing answer to that one as soon as the words left my lips.

"You’re kidding, right?"  "Of course not."

Yep, pretty much what I expected. I could see that this was going down like a big rock in a small pool.

“Do I at least get some cool wheels?”

“Actually, transportation of a sort is included…”

Ah, the excuse I needed to accept their proposal. “Well sure”, I said “I can do that.” Thus was the “Dark Skies Crusader” born…”DSC” to those that know him best.

It was not until many light polluted nights later that I found out that by “wheels” they meant a bicycle with an old-fashioned “ring-a-ling” bell – you know, the type you push with your thumb to make the old metallic ringing noise. Oh baby, obviously, the “C” in “DSC” does NOT stand for “Cool”.

Okay, maybe it didn’t go down EXACTLY that way, but it was darn close!  Connie Walker and Rob Sparks were the brains and artistic talent behind this scam to make me, Chuck Dugan, the Dark Skies Crusader.  With the Education and Public Outreach Department being a very small piece of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), and since they were already (as I mentioned) the brains and artistic talent, they needed someone else to play the role of the Dark Skies Crusader in their podcast of this Pseudo-hero’s vendetta against the “eeeeevils of bad lighting”.  I was basically the only one left.

That was just over two years ago, and now that I am “retired”, I can tell the story of my exploits. Like all superheroes, I have a disguise, and just like Clark Kent and Superman, it ain’t much of a disguise. I mean c’mon, how hard do you have to look to see the similarity in THOSE two? Really? Glasses make the difference?

With DSC, I pretty much put on my purple costume and ride my bike around looking for purveyors of bad and dumb lighting. That is when my only actual talent comes into play. You see, Dark Skies Crusader is a “lighting engineer” – I can suggest improvements, upgrades, and changes that will turn any “bad light” into a “smart and energy efficient” alternative! Whoa, superpowers indeed! In my exploits over the past couple years, I have worked with my own version of “minions”, those of the public who would support me and join my efforts to find and fix the problems presented by these bad lights.

I (with help from many others) have helped kids to see the stars.  We’ve saved wild animals from the effects of bad lights and glare.  I’ve begun to inform the public about the health detriments that recent studies indicate may be related to unnatural or excessive nighttime lighting.  And, as if that wasn’t enough, through the example and efforts of myself and a cadre of others we’ve recruited “citizen scientists” to take part in the global effort called “GLOBE at Night”.  The GLOBE at Night program allows people all over the Earth to measure and report on the “darkness of their nighttime sky”.  Participants can use a manual or electronic method to measure how dark the night is, enter their results into an online database, and then to see their results – and the results from others around the globe – almost immediately.  It is a wonderful program that begins the work of helping people to see and understand that our dark skies are a “natural resource”…one that needs our protection and stewardship.  Once the impact is known and measured, steps can be proposed to “take back the dark night”.

So, you see, the efforts of the Dark Sky Crusader aren’t just related to astronomy and those that appreciate an inky black nighttime sky!  Oh, no, DSC is trying to improve the lives, of people and animals, by eliminating the effects and costs of bad lighting.

As I said earlier, I am now retired from actively engaging in the battle.  I have passed the mantle and responsibility of defending and preserving dark skies to younger, more capable superheroes.  They are the ones that stand to benefit most from these efforts.  But I am content that as a Pseudo-Super-Hero, I’ve done my part…and who knows, The Dark Skies Crusader may yet rise again!

DSCrusader Logo

The cartoon logo of the "Dark Skies Crusader" created by Pete Marenfeld (NOAO).


Check out the "Dark Skies Crusader" podcasts from 365 Days of Astronomy online!





Chuck DuganChuck Dugan has lived in Tucson since 1968, graduating from Palo Verde HS and the University of Arizona with a degree in Management Information Systems. His passion for astronomy brought him to the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in 2002. Since 2006 Chuck has coordinated “Project ASTRO” for NOAO in Tucson, a national program that brings teachers and astronomers together as partners to deliver hands-on astronomy and science in the classroom. With his experience as a Solar System Ambassador for NASA’s JPL, and working two nights per week as a guide in Kitt Peak’s Nightly Observing Program, Chuck often speaks and hosts activities at local community businesses, star parties, public events and astronomy clubs. 


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