Making Sense of Modern Light Bulb Labeling

By Didier Saumon, Jemez Mountains Night Sky Coalition

Buying a light bulb used to be simple. Up until about 15 years ago, nearly all light bulbs on the consumer market were of the incandescent type (with a coiled filament inside), labeled in watts. When we needed a bright light we chose a 100 watt bulb and for applications requiring less light, we chose 40 or 60 watt bulbs.

It’s no longer quite so simple. Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology is rapidly taking over nearly all applications, and there is a much greater variety to choose from. Bulbs and fixtures are now labeled with watts, lumens, and “K,” complemented with terms such as “soft white,” and “daylight.” What does it all mean? This article in our series on light pollution aims to demystify these technical terms to help navigate the purchase of light bulbs and fixtures.

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Light Pollution, the Environment, and Us

Moths flock to man-made light sources, like this outdoor light, instead of orienting to the moon. This is just one example of how artificial light can interrupt the natural behaviors of wildlife. (Photo by Mohibul Hoque)

By Kelli Housley, Valles Caldera National Preserve

With contributions from Monique Schoustra and Starr Woods

Humans and animals have always relied on the stars for seasonal awareness, navigation, and understanding. But increases in artificial lighting and light pollution cost us our connection to the past and produce devastating effects on our own health and our environment.

Animals have evolved to use natural cycles of day and night for migration, mating, pollination, and more. But countless species have been adversely affected because of the increase in lighting and light pollution over the years. Artificial light and skyglow have caused disruptions to many species’ natural cycle of life, contributing to reductions in population and even extinction.

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Restoring Our Night Skies

Comet NEOWISE photographed in July 2020 at Valles Caldera National Preserve. Valles Caldera recently achieved International Dark Sky Park status. (Photo by Glen Wurden)

By Galen Gisler

Ancient cultures populated the night sky with fanciful imaginary creatures, and told their stories so frequently and so vividly that the stars were named for specific parts of those creatures’ bodies.

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