The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada issued the following information for its members. Over the last decade the striking ethereal glow of Green Laser Pointers (GLPs) has become a familiar sight at astronomy education and public outreach (EPO) events, from star parties for beginners to sky-at-night tours around astronomical installations. With the beam of a GLP an astronomy educator can direct an audience unerringly to a specific object — planet, meteor shower radiant, star, asterism, constellation, or nebula.
The very light of the GLP itself can seem to confer an enhanced authority on the EPO guide. The GLP remains one of the coolest tools in the amateur’s instrument case — but only if used responsibly. GLPs are tools not toys, and their misuse can lead to serious harm.
Up until the beginning of 2009 in Canada the marketing, acquisition, and safe and responsible use of GLPs was minimally regulated in Canada, in contrast to policy in the USA, England, and Australia. Beginning in 2009, the Division of System Security, Civil Aviation unit, Dorval Service Centre, of the
Quebec Region of Transport Canada (TC), in response to flashing of aircraft by non-astronomers, attempted to develop and implement a protocol to control civilian GLP use, the premise of which seemed to be that the use of GLPs for amateur astronomy EPO or other applications is illegal anywhere out-of-doors in Canada without official TC authorization. At the beginning of July the Division of System Security of the Civil Aviation unit at Dorval stated that: “A webpage will be put online concerning lasers and their use and we will embark on a national campaign on the use of lasers by astronomy clubs. This last initiative will be organized by our central office in Ottawa.”
So far the TC webpage has not appeared, the national campaign has yet to be implemented, and it is unclear to which TC offices around the country RASC members should apply for GLP permits. The application forms have yet to be made available in English. As we endeavour to discover the nature and the status of Transport Canada’s GLP initiatives, we counsel RASC members to use GLPs sensibly and responsibly, and to cooperate fully with Canadian Government authorities should the need arise.
In keeping with the RASC’s commitment to informative, inspiring, and safe EPO, it encourages its members to follow the following guidelines for the use of GLPs:
- Ensure that GLPs are operated only by designated, responsible adults, preferably RASC members who are familiar with the potential hazards of laser light;
- Use GLPs only for pointing out inanimate objects in the night sky;
- Take special care not to shine GLPs in the direction of any person, vehicle, or aircraft;
- Avoid using a GLP near an airport or airport runway approach;
- Use the minimum power to do the job: if a 5 mW laser is bright enough, why use a stronger one?
- Be aware that distraction and distress can be experienced by anyone illuminated by green laser light, even if the level is well below that which would cause physiological damage.
By following these guidelines (which are simply common sense) RASC members will reduce the chance of an unfortunate incident involving GLPs, and will demonstrate due diligence while leading public astronomical activities. As more information becomes available to us, we will pass it along.