Bridging the gap between East and West Texas, I-35's brightly lit corridors are familiar to nearly every person living in Central Texas and beyond. The highway is so bright that all the way from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico up through Dallas and everything west of the highway can be seen from space.
This pathway between a light-polluted sky and the stars is called "The Edge of Night."
That's because I-35 segments the sections: to the west, the night sky is mostly dark outside of cities, but to the east, the skies gleam all night and day, taking the place of the stars. Austin sits along the edge of night, centrally situated, so you can't see the stars from most areas of the city.
(Tip: click #4 on the dark sky map)
The harm of light pollution
A night sky with no stars is caused by the well-known phenomenon called light pollution, which is the brightening of the sky caused by streetlights and other man-made light sources. According to Starry Sky Austin Director Amy Jackson, light pollution causes more harm than just hiding constellations.
"Some people will never see our Milky Way galaxy and it's crazy to me, because ... that's like a birthright, we should be able to see our Milky Way galaxy and not have to travel far to see it," Jackson said. "We should be able to see our stars in the sky. That's an important issue but there's so many other ones. It's definitely a misconception that's propagated by all kinds of people that it's safer when we light up the night."
Instead of using directional light pointed toward the ground, most light bulbs cause light scatter, spreading light in all directions, which creates a glare that actually makes it harder to see. Glare makes the lit-up areas look brighter and the unlit areas are made to look darker by contrast, causing safety issues and skyglow.
Street lights create a lot of glare, and the transition to LED lights has created even more. LED lights contain a more blue light, making the light look whiter and brighter. This glare can temporarily blind you if it's too bright—like when someone's LED headlights are pointed just so at your rearview mirror.
"We just don't think about that light hurting us, we don't think about light blinding us," said Cindy Luongo Cassidy, director of the Texas Chapter of the International Dark Sky Association.
Aside from traffic issues, excess blue light disrupts our circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle, and the ecosystems of plants and animals all around us. Think about the blue light your phone and computer emit, but on a much larger scale.
Blue light affects our production of melatonin—which disrupts our sleep patterns and causes fatigue and strain—but according to Jackson, it causes ecological issues like upsetting bird migratory patterns, nocturnal animals and plant life.
"Lights are telling us and our bodies to stay awake and so now we have our screens and we have our cell phones and we're like 'okay, you should stay awake,' you're like 'no, I need to go to sleep,'" Jackson said. "It messes with our circadian rhythms and we start to have a decreased immune system so we're more prone to illness."
In extreme cases, Cassidy said decreased melatonin can contribute to certain types of cancer because melatonin inhibits the production of cancerous cells. Several studies have stated the same thing, also linking cancer to lack of sleep.
"It really messes up the life on this planet," Cassidy said. "We may not see it right away but it'll say, cause trees to be more susceptible to disease, it causes our cancers to keep growing rather than melatonin being there just to stop it. It's detrimental to us. We hold up the Barton Springs salamander and say we've got to protect this endangered species and yet, artificial light is detrimental to it."
Aside from the health issues and ecological damage, using so much electricity is expensive, wasteful and doesn't even do much to protect us, Cassidy said. In fact, studies have shown that many types of crime, like larceny and theft, are more likely to occur in the daytime.
Advocating for starry nights
Attempting to reduce light pollution, places like Dripping Springs became classified as an International Dark Sky Community, meaning the city is dedicated to "preservation of the night sky through the implementation and enforcement of quality lighting policies."
In order to qualify, cities must make a few minor changes: shield all light fixtures so light is not wasted on the sky, control light wavelength and temperatures (i.e. control blue light) and consistently regulate the emission of light into the sky.
Several other Texas cities have shown interest in becoming dark sky communities like Bee Cave, Lago Vista and Inks Lake. Organizations like Travis County Friends of the Night Sky and Hill Country Alliance have advocated for legislation that would limit light trespass and reduce glare, but due to a bill that was passed during the last legislative session Texas cities can no longer become dark sky cities.
HB 2439 went into effect on Sept. 1, 2019, and restricts the government from regulating local building materials used in construction. The Texas Association of Builders Vice President Ned Muñoz said that while current dark sky communities were exempted, keeping new dark sky communities from emerging was an unintended consequence of the bill.
"In order to be (a dark sky community) you had to already have the ordinances in effect," Muñoz said. "It was unintentionally only applied to ordinances that had already been certified."
Now, Muñoz said he is working with Scenic Texas and other organizations to rectify the problem. The idea is to allow ordinances that regulate outdoor lighting for the purpose of reducing light pollution to be adopted by cities, while simultaneously being exempt from the current bill.
"The way we would try to fix this is to say not only are dark sky certified communities exempted, but we want to exempt cities that have expressed an intent to become a dark sky community and are mandating those International Dark Sky Association guidelines," Muñoz said.
Muñoz said they are trying to rectify the issue this legislative session.
Austin is still a long way from being able to see its night sky clearly, so in the meantime, Jackson recommends heading west if you want to stargaze. However, there are places in and around Austin where you can find some darkness.
"Luckily, Austin has a lot of parks, in Travis County there are parks you can go to, and we have our state parks system," Jackson said. "Enchanted Rock is a dark sky park, South Llano River State Park is a dark sky park, and those are darker than the ones in town like McKinney Falls."
You can view a full list of dark sky areas in Texas here.
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F1 at COTA: With split-second win, Verstappen defeats veteran Hamilton to take first U.S. Grand Prix!
In a win that brought on the passion from Formula 1's biggest rivals, 24-year-old Max Verstappen won his first U.S. Grand Prix as he bested seven-time champ Lewis Hamilton by less than a second at Austin's Circuit of the Americas on Sunday.
Hamilton, who has won the USGP for Mercedes seven times before, snuck up on Verstappen's lead for the final 15 laps but was unable to beat the Dutchman as Verstappen took a more decisive lead in the 2021 standings. Verstappen is now 12 points ahead of his veteran foe with just five races to go.
Max extends his lead on Lewis by 1⃣2⃣ points..
Five rounds remain 👀#USGP 🇺🇸 #F1 pic.twitter.com/EZHlQDra0M
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 24, 2021
After a weekend of big-name performances, celebrity appearances and wacky entertainment, all eyes were on Austin as the fest came to a dramatic end for the final 2 p.m. race.
The 56-lap Texas showdown saw plenty of lead changes between the two stars.
It was Red Bull Racing's Verstappen who nabbed the pole position in a stormy qualifying race on Saturday, but Hamilton quickly closed the 260-yard-gap to take the first lead of the final race. With a well-timed pit stop from Verstappen, however, the young driver edged out Hamilton by six seconds early in the race.
Hamilton's younger tires won him over for the next several laps as he closed the lead, while a slowing Verstappen opted for a new set of hard tires as he took another pit stop in the 29th lap. Hamilton's brief lead lasted until a pit stop of his own that once again had him trail 7.8 seconds behind his competitor in the 37th lap.
With 15 laps to go, Hamilton had halved his lead and took the fastest lap of the race to earn an extra point in the season's standings. It was anyone's battle as the final five laps saw a bumper-to-bumper showdown between the two as Hamilton cut down to less than within one second behind Verstappen. But with Verstappen's cool head and a gust of dirty air, Hamilton was unable to make a last-ditch effort for another U.S. title as he lost the race by 1.33 seconds.
Win number EIGHT of 2021 for @Max33Verstappen 🤘#USGP 🇺🇸 #F1 pic.twitter.com/hxKAJAPc0i
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 24, 2021
Despite losing the race, Hamilton fist-bumped Verstappen at the end and said the competition's far from over between the two racing greats.
"What a great race down to Turn 1," Hamilton told reporters. "I thought for a second that we might be out to win the race, but we'll have to win the next one."
What a race from our title contenders 👏👊
Take a bow @Max33Verstappen and @LewisHamilton! #USGP 🇺🇸 #F1 pic.twitter.com/2jQkylJ8C3
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 24, 2021
Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez, a Mexico native, saw thousands of supporters from his home country as he landed the third-place title in the race. Meanwhile, Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas edged past Carlos Sainz to win a bumper-to-bumper battle for sixth place in the last lap of the race. Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Mercedes McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top five in fourth and fifth, respectively.
While the lead has widened between the sports' biggest rivals, there is still plenty of time for either to take the throne as they head into the final five races.
Despite losing a race that they normally win, Mercedes' Toto Wolff said they are very much in the running as they head to Mexico City for another showdown at the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday, Nov. 7.
"We are right there," Wolff said. "It's just good fun for everybody and there's pressure, but it's positive pressure."
Hamilton and Verstappen will once again face off in North America for the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday, Nov. 7 in Mexico City.
Here are the biggest highlights and final results for the first U.S. Grand Prix since 2019:
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing
- Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
- Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing
- Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
- Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren Mercedes
- Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
- Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
- Lando Norris, McLaren
- Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
- Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
- Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
- Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
- Kimi Räikkönen, Alfa Romeo
- George Russel, Williams
- Nicholas Latifi, Williams
- Mick Schumacher, Haas
- Nikita Mazepin, Haas
Lap 50—1.5 seconds separates the leaders
Hamilton has improved a six-point deficit for first as his younger tires take him within 1.5 seconds of Verstappen by the 50th lap. With six laps to go, Hamilton continues to beat out Verstappen in lap times, but some think Verstappen is holding out on speed.
Hamilton will need to bully his way past Verstappen very shortly if he's to take his seventh U.S. Grand Prix title, while Verstappen will need to keep his wits if he's to take his first.
Lap 43—Bumper car battle for fifth
With just over half of a second between the two, Sainz and Riccardo briefly get a bit too close as both cars make contact in the 43rd lap.
Dirty talk abounds—Sainz says Riccardo drove "a bit dirty" with a wide turn in Lap 10—and a bit of damage to Sainz's left-wing may not bode well for him in the remainder of the race. Meanwhile, Bottas encroaches both drivers with less than a second behind himself and Sainz in seventh place.
Lap 41— Hamilton encroaches Verstappen
Hamilton charged Verstappen for the final half of the race. (Austonia)
While Verstappen works to weave past the back of the pack as he laps them, Hamilton briskly follows. By Lap 41, he logs the fastest lap of the match, beating Sergio Perez, with a time of 1:39.781. He's now just 3.8 seconds behind a leading Verstappen with less than 15 laps to go.
Lap 37—Hamilton pits, Verstappen takes lead
Despite a decently quick pit stop—over two seconds shorter than Verstappen's—Hamilton falls 7.8 seconds behind Verstappen as the lead once again switches hands.
Lap 29—Verstappen returns to pit, Hamilton closes lead
After falling by as many as six seconds near the beginning of the race, Hamilton slowly began encroaching on Verstappen's lead. The Mercedes driver came within three seconds of Verstappen before the leading Dutchman took a pit stop in the 30th lap to opt for a fresh set of hard tires.
Meanwhile, a battle for fifth place has seen both Carlos Sainz, who was less than a second behind Daniel Ricciardo, to take a pit stop. Ricciardo soon followed. Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas earns a temporary fifth place slot, and Ricciardo keeps a lead over Sainz in sixth.
2:25- Verstappen wins over strategy
Hamilton may have grabbed an early lead, but Verstappen's well-timed pit stop in lap 11 put him six seconds ahead of his British foe by lap 14. Verstappen is now comfortable as Red Bull Racing wins the strategy side of the race.
Meanwhile, Red Bull's Perez has reached the No. 3 spot with Hamilton sandwiched in between. The middle race is beginning to expand as Charles Leclerc advances his fourth-place lead over a fifth-place Ricciardo.
2:08 p.m.—Hamilton takes lead, sets fastest lap
Hamilton is edging out Verstappen in the U.S. Grand Prix race. (Austonia)
Even with a 260-yard deficit, it's Hamilton who edges out Verstappen to take the lead at the start of the race despite being squeezed by Verstappen at the top of the hill. A few minutes later, Hamilton sets a lap-best time at 1:41.071.
Sunday, 1:30—drivers, cars heat up for the big race
Hamilton, Verstappen and the other 20 drivers are warming up their cars and minds as the clock ticks down for the final race.
The starting grid is buzzing with excitement as Verstappen arrives at around 1:15, with Hamilton hitting the grid around 10 minutes later.
The rivals' cars are wheeled just 260 yards apart, a small margin that Hamilton will attempt to close by the end of the first lap on the 20-turn track.
Sunday—Celebrities take COTA as the race heats up
As one of the United States' premier racing competitions, it's no surprise that a star-studded cast—and audience—have contributed to the excitement of the race.
Performances from Twenty One Pilots, Billy Joel and Travis Scott have riled up the crowd, while NBA star-turned-DJ Shaquille O'Neal will be performing as DJ Diesel for the race after party.
IndyCar racing great Danica Patrick is commentating nationwide for the race after a decorated career as one of the most prominent female drivers ever in the sport.
The U.S. Grand Prix has seen anyone from former President Bill Clinton to star chef Gordon Ramsey in past crowds, and this year is no different. Shaq's fellow NBA star Chris Bosh has been spotted this weekend as well as tennis star Serena Williams, Texas rapper Megan Thee Stallion and actor William Fichtner.
There's sure to be many more celebs embedded in that thousands-strong crowd, so keep your eyes peeled!
Sunday—Chadwick takes W Series Championship title
Formula 1 may be taking the limelight this weekend, but a high-stakes competition took place just before the big race on Sunday morning as the Women's Series' Jamie Chadwick took her second consecutive championship title in Austin.
The 2021 W Series champ took her crown after winning both races this weekend. After taking the Saturday race, Chadwick cruised to victory with a five-second lead over a second-place Abbi Pulling to win the championship over rival Alice Powell.
Chadwick defeated Powell for her second U.S. Grand Prix win since the last race in 2019, earning $500,000 in the process. The W Series, which is free-to-enter unlike Formula 1 and hopes to level out the financial playing field for men and women, is a developmental league that also provides 15 FIA super licence points to season winners. With enough super licence points, W Series drivers can level up to Formula 3 competitions and eventually beyond as they begin to compete against male drivers.
Saturday, 4 p.m.—Verstappen wins first, Hamilton takes second in qualifiers
In a three-round battle on Saturday, Verstappen flipped the switch from the day's practice rounds as he took a last-second lead over Hamilton to win the pole position, or first slot, in Sunday's starting grid on Saturday's qualifiers.
But it wasn't an easy battle. Verstappen's teammate Perez, a Mexico native, earned cheers from plenty of fans from his neighboring home country as he held the lead through the 10-minute round. Hamilton, who had been flanked behind both Red Bull foes, pulled a last-second lead to finish the finals and looked to take the pole position.
As rain began to fall, however, Verstappen pumped the gas for one final lap and won the pole position from his Team Mercedes foe.
It's Verstappen's first pole position on U.S. soil as he looks to take his first U.S. Grand Prix.
Click here for more information on the qualifiers.
Saturday morning—Ricciardo drives Earnhardt's 1984 car
Just as early fans began to trickle in, McLaren Mercedes' Daniel Ricciardo broke the crisp morning air with a roar as he drove some donuts in Dale Earnhardt's 1984 Wrangler car.
Ricciardo fulfilled his childhood dream—unlike many of his competitors his racing heroes growing up were his dad and Earnhardt, a seven-time NASCAR champion. Ricciardo collected many of Earnhardt's model cars growing up, but he never got his hands on this one until now, according to a report from ESPN.
After the exhibition laps, a breathless Ricciardo told reporters about the exhilarating experience.
"I can't speak," Ricciardo said. "That was fun, I think I'm still a little bit high right now."
Ricciardo's joyride caught the attention of Dale Earnhardt's son, NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr, who responded with a tweet that gave Ricciardo "goosebumps."
"I'm happy for Daniel," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm also appreciative for how he celebrates my father. That makes a lot of dads family members and fans smile."
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Austin FC defeated its fellow Texas MLS team, Houston Dynamo FC, 2-1 on Sunday afternoon at Q2 Stadium, marking the club's eighth win of its inaugural season.
It was an unusual match from a scoring perspective, more own goals—when the opposing team inadvertently scores on their own net—were scored than honest ones.
The Verde and Black came out of the gates strong in the first half, dictating the possession and pace from the outset. Austin FC drew two fouls, was awarded two corner kicks and got off three shots all in the first five minutes of action. Austin was rewarded for its effort with a penalty in the sixth minute.
Austin midfielder Cecilio Domínguez drew the penalty by driving up the left wing before being tackled from behind by Houston defender Zarek Valentin just inside the area. It was then Domínguez who stepped up to take the shot. Taking aim with his right foot, the shot bounced off the left post, then the right before bouncing off goalkeeper Marko Maric of the Dynamo and into the goal. Maric was credited with an own goal and Austin found itself ahead 1-0 early on.
Well...you don't see that very often. #VERDE https://t.co/JwBNVKqCxD— Major League Soccer (@Major League Soccer) 1635111133.0
Following the defensive mistake, the Dynamo played with a heightened sense of urgency for the remainder of the half.
And just as the action seemed to be winding down before halftime, Austin launched one last-ditch attack in the final minute of stoppage time. Team captain Alex Ring got the ball in a dangerous position just outside of the box and after dodging several Houston defenders, got the ball to the open Sebastián Driussi. Driussi fired off a right-footed shot into the bottom left corner to take Austin FC up 2-0 going into the break.
Besides a two-goal advantage for Austin, the stats were fairly even in the first half. Both teams committed six fouls and had a player booked for a yellow card. Houston had a slight advantage shooting the ball, getting off eight shots and three on target while Austin had seven shots and two on target.
Austin once again came out quick to start the second half, getting off two shots in the first minute followed by two more in the 53rd minute. All were handled by the Dynamo defense.
As the final whistle neared, the Dynamo ramped up its aggression in an attempt to squeak by with a draw. Just as it seemed that Austin FC would walk away with the clean sheet, defender Julio Cascante sent the ball into his own net after it was cleared by his teammate and ricocheted off of his body.
Now only trailing 2-1, Houston tried desperately to even the score and was awarded two corners in the final minute of stoppage. Alas, the Dynamo could not get off a shot and Austin FC walked away with the win.
With the win, Austin now holds a 2-1 all-time record against the neighboring Houston. Austin remains at the bottom of the Western Conference in 13th place with a record of 8-19-4 while Houston is in 11th place.
Austin FC's next match will be away against FC Dallas on Oct. 30. Dallas FC joins them at the bottom in 12th place.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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