Designated Optical Observatories and Obtrusive Lighting

The Astronomical Society of Australia has been asked by Standards Australia to maintain a list of “designated” optical observatories deserving of protection from obtrusive lighting (“light pollution”). The ASA and invites nominations of permanent observatories that are judged to be valuable resources for (i) research, (ii) education and (iii) community use.

Criteria for listing as a Designated Observatory

If you feel that your observatory represents a valuable astronomical resource, you may nominate it for consideration by the ASA as a ‘Designated Observatory’ using the Application Form (in Word or PDF). It is essential to make the strongest possible case by fully answering every question on the form.

Essential criteria if a facility is to be considered are:

  1. A permanent ‘observatory’ structure housing the telescope(s)
  2. A clear strength in one or more of the three areas:
    • research – astronomical data is regularly submitted to (and accepted by) an internationally recognised astronomical organisation or journal
    • education – a well-defined and continuing educational program (not just occasional school visits)
    • community use – a well-defined and continuing program program of access to the local community and/or tourists (preferably advertised; not just occasional visitors)
  3. A supporting statement from a ‘seconder’ for the Application:
    • For small private observatories, an officer from a recognised astronomical society testifying to the usefulness of the research program being undertaken and/or the community benefits of any educational activities
    • For school and college observatories, a senior officer of the administration of the school or college

The current list of Designated Optical Observatories is included below.

Clearly many valuable observatories are not currently listed, especially among the amateur community.

The credibility of this public list demands a strict standard. Many amateur observing facilities will not be able to meet these criteria. This is not to doubt the value of their contribution to astronomy, but more likely recognises the limitations of their observing site and/or facilities. The final arbiter of whether any particular observatory is so designated will be the ASA.

Status as a designated observatory is reviewed periodically.

Renewal of designated status requires the submission of a short Report Form (in Word or PDF) outlining the activities of the Observatory.

Contacts and Links

Further information on the ASA’s list of Designated Optical Observatories can be obtained from the ASA Secretary

Further information on combating light pollution may be found on the homepage of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

Also of interest:

  • A Physics Today article Lighting and Astronomy (Luginbuhl, Walker and Wainscoat, December 2009 pp32-37) may be of interest.
  • An email list is maintained by the Outdoor Lighting Reform Action Group (based in Canberra) on the topic of Light Pollution and Quality Lighting. Subscribe by sending an email to with “subscribe” in the body of the text.
  • An extensive list of links related to light pollution can be found at Light Pollution Awareness Website.

Some Background on Australian Standards for Exterior Lighting

Standards Australia is the organisation which formulates, publishes and distributes documents covering a vast range subjects of which lighting and more specifically exterior lighting is one which is of interest to astronomers. An increasing number of Standards are becoming joint Australian and New Zealand documents.

It should be noted that Standards Australia is but one of the sources of documents used by planning bodies including local government (councils etc), State and Federal governments. Councils develop their own Development Control Plans (or similarly titled documents) which can be simple plans through to major and influential pieces of local legislation. State Planning department often co-ordinate local government activities as well as producing over-riding plans. A good example of the latter is the Orana Regional Environmental Plan #1 which is designed to protect the night skies around the Siding Spring Observatory. Federal Government plans include those issued by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Standards Australia have a number of committees dealing with lighting and associated matters. The ASA is now represented on two committees – LG2 (Road Lighting) and LG10 (Obtrusive Lighting). We have requested membership of the Sports Lighting Committee but without success at present.

The main Road Lighting Standards which have an effect on skyglow are

  • AS/NZS1158.1.1 – 1997 Road Lighting (Vehicular)
  • AS/NZS1158.3.1-1999 Road Lighting (Pedestrian Area)
  • AS1158.4 – 1984 Supplementary Lighting at Pedestrian Crossings (of lesser relevance).

Both vehicular and pedestrian Standards have Upward Waste Light Ratio limits with intensity limits at the higher angles (80 & 90 deg) being specified in the Pedestrian Area document. This Standard also caters for minor roads (residential streets) so it is of considerable importance to the dark sky movement.

The Australian Standard AS4282 on “The Control of the Obtrusive Effects of Outdoor Lighting” was issued in October 1997 and revised in 2019. It provides guidelines for planning authorities to ameliorate the effects of light pollution in the vicinity of observatories. These guidelines are not mandatory, but may be drawn to the attention of a given planning authority by any concerned party. Acceptance as a designated observatory does not imply any form of legal status. Nevertheless, it should assist the observatory in presenting a stronger case for protection against obtrusive lighting.

The Sports Lighting suite of Standards is quite large as it covers a general document (most important) – AS2560 Sports Lighting – General Principles, with separate Standards covering the different sports but all are referred back to the main document for the important general requirements.

It should be noted that all Standards are not mandatory but any disregard for the requirements causing incidents which could lead to litigation obviously places the person or organisation responsible for the installation in a difficult situation. In the case of Road Lighting where State Government subsidies are provided for Councils etc. such installations must comply with all of the relevant Standards in order to receive subsidies.

Current List of Designated Observatories


There are clearly more significant Amateur Society/Private Observatories that should be on this list. Please apply!

The Observatories and Planetaria page of the ASA’s Australian Astronomy web site has links to other Australian professional and amateur observatories.