international dark sky association
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