Many times as an amateur astronomer/astrophotographer you’re trying to locate good places with good seeing and local weather to accomodate your needs in astronomical observations. Many amateur astronomers have spotted favorite spots away from modern civilization’s disturbances such as lights, traffic, curious individuals that approach you with headlights in the middle of the night, such as dog owners, hunters, security guards, the local police force, etc.
I’ve met all of these types of people in the middle of the night and believe me sometimes they scare you more than nature wildlife sounds might do. California is rich in wildlife, such as snakes, bears, mountain lions, etc. Animals however always want to keep their distance to your nightly activities and are less curious than human beings on what you’re working on during a photographic session.
There are many stories I can tell you about these meetings, but this blog entry is more about loosing the beauty of nature that once was there protecting you from city and traffic light, dew, and temperatures. The devastating fires in my immediate close area last summer was different. I live with my family very close to California’s most aggressive fires that happened in this state’s history ever before.
The so called Carr fires in Shasta county (including Hirz) then later on the Camp fire in Butte county where the most devastating wildfires that I’ve ever seen. Loosing forests so drastically, not to mention cities and home societies that were wiped out of the map is a weird feeling. You realize how vulnerable we all are against the climate changes and you literally end up loosing everything. At my job we all know someone, either close family relative or a family friend that has lost property and even family members. It feels as if we are in a war zone and you can’t do anything about it. Human lives, wild and domesticated animals, acres of both forest and farming land was lost in matter of a week from the moment those fires started.
Insurance companies are now facing huge issues in trying to pay back all those incoming claims from their insurance policy members which effects everyone financially. Local businesses are lost and people end up moving (migrating) away from the areas. I saw people camping in parking lots and had nowhere to go and no family to take care of them.
It was most noticeable this past November in 2018 when Thankgiving was around the corner when you realized how many people wouldn’t celebrate one of the biggest key holidays in US, freezing cold that night in their cars completely alone from the warm homes that once protected them.
Everyone is making new year’s resolutions about gym, career, health, but I believe my new year’s resolution is to try and bring awareness to people about our nature changes and do my best to document and write more about the climate change and its effects on all of us. There’s a major disbelief that climate change is hoax, but you can’t simply ignore the fact that all these people and animals have died for something we all could have done something about.
While east coast is starting consequentially experiencing annually the wrath of hurricanes and extreme storms here in California we got something called Fire Season… It is unbelievable, you know it’s going to happen again every year and every time with more devastating effects. California’s once proud forests are slowly turning out to its neighboring state Nevada… A Marsian looking desert.
Forests are more than just nature’s lunges… They protect us from landslides, they improve home living from high summer temperatures and people who suffer from medical conditions end up living close to those areas to ride out California’s extreme summer heat, they provide us with knowledge, they improve local businesses and trade by bringing over tourists and campers, they host threatened from extinction animals and insects and many other things.
Let us hope 2019 will be more hopeful with less fires and nature disasters against our natural monuments and our homes.
For a few years ago an astronomy friend of mine and myself went out to our favorite location where we normally setup our telescopes and did our stargazing and astrophotography. On a late evening we had two journalists joining us (Johan Joelsson & Jonatan Jacobson) to do an interview based on a research my friend had been working for years, namely, charting how extensively light pollution had spread across in south and the central regions of Sweden. At the time there was no agency, or other independent organizations that had any detailed maps over this. My friend’s idea was to assist amateur astronomers but also provide awareness over this issue.
Light pollution can be typically described as the unawareness of the effects on how we use light sources at public, our buildings, our farms and other types of facilities/buildings and the consequences it brings towards the environment and the ecosystem overall.
Light pollution in our environment can be easily discarded as nonsense but when satellite imagery started to become publicly accessible, it was hard to ignore it. The expansion of cities over the decades, the deforestation, the new road systems with lights spreading across countries and the ever increased human population start paying its toll towards the environment (Below is a satellite image over US, showing us how extensive light pollution is across the east part of the country).
What many people are unaware of (other than the term itself) is that it has an immense impact to human life and wildlife. Wild animals that are using darkness to hide from nightly predators, or predators who use darkness to be camouflaged or to see better, or even newborn turtles are mislead starting to wander towards cities instead, are just a few out of many examples where the pollution got out of hand.
To us astronomers just like wildlife itself, are trying to seek ourselves away to darker areas, as far as possible from civilization in order to be able to observe the wonders of the night sky. Professional astronomers that work with research are trying to build new facilities in remote areas as well, such as the top large mountains or inhabitant areas in other continents.
Apart from that, there’s also on-going studies to determine how badly flora is effected when it comes to cellular respiration and growth. And not so surprisingly when it comes to humans there are already two types of cancer connected to this issue, as well as the disturbed production of melatonin in our bodies. In recent years there has been an increased amount of prescribed melatonin by doctors around the world to their patients. Melatonin is the substance produced by our brains to help balance our sleep cycles.
Below is an illustration from the software Stellarium that got a setting to turn on different levels of light pollution on your night sky. Stellarium can even extract data from your area you live at and apply the appropriate level of light pollution automatically for you. From left to right you have light pollution level 1 (national parks, or far away from civilization), level 3 in rural areas (country side, with few farms and some forests), level 5 (minor cities with a population of 1000 to 5000 people), level 7 (suburban areas with a population of 10,000 to 100,000 people) and finally level 9 are large cities where only main constellation stars, planets are making barely any appearance in the skies in ideal city conditions (without smog, fog, smoke, etc.)
All in all, the severity of the effects from light pollution can be easily classified as an equal to other environmental pollution. We loose our night skies resulting to younger generations having no memory of describing something as easily identifiable as the milky way. Some humans haven’t seen anything else apart from the moon and sun. Their knowledge is based on images from google, school books and because the teacher said so.
The night sky was once upon a time a source of inspiration from the ages of antiquity to recent years, but it is constantly under daily threat. Would humanity ever experience night-sky-inspired individuals such as Galileo, Newton or Einstein if the skies don’t look the same anymore? For those who’ve been reading on their biographies will realize that they were inspired by the freedom of thought and the wonders of cosmos.
There is still however hope as long as we get aware of what all this means and if all of us take a few moments to take our own little measurements that will add up. Get new light bulbs for your backyard that point downwards and don’t reflect or spread light more than what is necessary and even visit the International Dark Sky Association to read more in regards to light pollution and how you can help to educate others about it and to become the advocates of it.
Our environment is in need of more awareness from all of us, much more now than ever before. You can save energy and lower your energy bills at your own home by turning off unnecessary light sources, install light sources pointing down to the areas you’re interested instead of letting your light sources scatter light in your surroundings and the sky (unnecessary loss of energy for no purpose). If you live near the beach, harbor, sea in general, avoid pointing light sources towards the waters or forests. That may save the life for animals.
Once a year is the celebration of Earth Hour. Turn off your lights for just 1 hour to save energy and to teach your younglings about the environment which we are part of.
- International Dark Sky Association
- Skyglow Project
- Lasse Lindh – Road Astronomy (In Swedish)
- Light Pollution Map
- Clear Sky Charts
- Earth Hour