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The stars at night are slightly less bright

But we’re trying to fix that.

Texas regulators are asking West Texas oil and gas producers to help preserve the region’s famously starry skies.

In a notice issued Wednesday, the Texas Railroad Commission called on Permian Basin operators to curb light pollution at worksites, particularly around the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory, a destination for world-renowned astronomers in the Davis Mountains near Fort Stockton.

Touting some of the darkest skies in North America and one of the world’s largest telescopes — the Hobby-Eberly — that secluded outpost draws about 75,000 amateur stargazers each year, along with professionals who have made major discoveries, including, in 2012, the most massive black hole ever detected. The Hobby-Eberly recently underwent a $30 million upgrade as part of a project focusing on dark energy, the mysterious force propelling the accelerated expansion of the universe.

But astronomers and other dark skies fanatics fret that scattered light from drilling rigs, light towers and other equipment in recent years has drowned out entire sections of sky, threatening the view and research.

Ordinances in the seven counties surrounding the observatory require home and business owners to cut their light use at certain times. Most residents follow the rules, but such rules don’t apply to the operators whose lights can be seen from hundreds of miles away.

The Railroad Commission notice discusses the “cutting edge” research at the observatory, and refers companies to studies on how to address the problem relatively cheaply.

“You are encouraged to consult these resources and consider ways to reduce stray light,” the notice states. “The solutions can be simple and cost effective and can actually improve nighttime visibility and increase worker safety.”

This is not the first time that the McDonald Observatory has faced this issue. Now that the oil boom is over, a big part of that problem may be solved organically. Be that as it may, it’s nice to see the Railroad Commission doing something useful. Hopefully the drillers that remain out in the Permian Basin will take heed of their advice.

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