Light Pollution Is Stealing Our Skies

The entire universe in blog form
April 23 2014 7:30 AM

Black Skies, Smiling at Me

Milky Way meteor
A meteor flashes across the sky; one of the few kinds of nighttime illumination of which I approve.

Photo by Mark Gee, used by permission

This week, April 20–26, 2014, is International Dark Sky Week, a global effort to get people to appreciate the skies above them. Light pollution—excess light thrown into the sky by street lights, houses, buildings, and pretty much everything that makes light—reduces our ability to see the stars, sometimes dramatically. I lived in Chicago for a year, and on the clearest nights I could only see the very few brightest stars, struggling against the mighty orange glow of the city projected upward.

This light is wasted; it’s money thrown away, it’s low-efficiency, and in many cases the lights being used at night aren’t really doing a good job of illuminating the ground and making it safer.

Advertisement

Astrophotographer Mark Gee (who has been featured on my blog before; see Related Posts below) made a short and lovely video to highlight the issue. His work is stunning and well worth your time.

Years ago, my wife and I took a weekend vacation to a campground in rural Virginia; it was a camp I attended a couple of times as a kid. The owners were family friends, and one weekend every year they had old friends over to spend time together and enjoy the gorgeous scenery.

We parked near the main house, and as we fussed inside the car getting our belongings together, another weekend-goer walked by us while he talked on his phone. We overhead one snippet of his conversation, where he said “… and you should see the sky at night here. It’s so dark, and there are thousands of stars!”

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

I turned to my wife and we smiled at each other. He had no idea an astronomer was sitting there and could hear him; that was a spontaneous exclamation from someone who simply had never seen a dark sky before, and was properly overwhelmed by it.

That night we all sat in a field and watched the brilliant stars sparkling in a field of velvety black. It truly was amazing, mesmerizing, surpassingly beautiful. The artwork of nature, displayed for all to see …

… who have the skies to see it. This experience is what light pollution is stealing from us, and this is why I support what the International Dark Sky Association is doing to raise awareness of it. They have a different theme every day this week talking about our brightening skies, and I encourage you to take a look to see what they’re doing about it. The sky belongs to all of us, and we all deserve a chance to see it.

Related Posts

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 2:57 PM ISIS Helps Snuff Out Conservative Opposition to Government Funding Bill
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.