Use of Lasers

USING LASERS IN AMATEUR ASTRONOMY

Background

Simple green lasers are an (almost) essential tool for amateur astronomy. They improve communications and learning for our Viewing Night participants. They can allow better alignment of some telescopes by orientating them to known stars.

They are however known to cause eye damage due to the green light, and due to any possible infrared light component.

Legal position

In Queensland, the use of lasers under 20 mW for astronomical purposes is governed by the Weapons Act 1990. However, a key part of complying with the Regulation is that you must be a current member of a registered astronomy society. RAS has applied for such registration. Note that RAS cannot support you if you use a greater than 20 mW device, or if you are not a current member.

What type

Most commercially-available green handheld lasers meet all of our usual amateur astronomical needs. The lower the power that you use, the better it is in terms of minimizing potential eye damage. It is very preferable to use one with a maximum of five (5) mW output (as labelled on your device). A one (1) mW maximum device would be even safer.

It’s too easy to accidently press the power button at the wrong moment. So seriously consider purchasing a laser unit type that has a key lock on the base.

How to use safely

Always ensure that your laser is switched to the OFF position when it is not aimed at celestial objects.  Keep it in your pocket or a safe place when it's not in use.

There are obvious things that you should not do with a handheld laser, even inadvertently. These include pointing at passing planes and/or vehicles, pointing into local houses, and pointing at individuals.

You need to be especially careful at our Viewing Nights, where people wander around in the dark and may stray into your laser beam.

Store your device away securely when it is not in use. This includes when at home.

The Key to Using Lasers?

Take personal responsibility for, and maintain awareness about, any laser that you use wherever and whenever you use it – at a RAS activity, at home or anywhere. Know and understand the risks, and how to manage them. Keep up to date with Google.


Version 1a:  3 August 2022