Dark Skies and Starry Nights

Written by Erin Rush, ESLLC 2016-2017

Laying underneath the most beautiful, starry night you can imagine with the silence of the wilderness surrounding you. Some of the most incredible experiences have come from this situation. Now imagine it all being gone; no more beautiful night skies; no more of the most memorable experiences; no more stars.

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Let’s start with what is light pollution? As defined by Google, light pollution is “brightening of the night sky caused by street lights and other man-made sources.” In other words, light pollution is misdirected light that causes a dome of light between us and our view of the stars. 

Now, why is light pollution bad? You may have already answered this question for yourself: if light pollution hides the stars from our view, then it must be bad because the stars are rad. However, there are so many more reasons that light pollution is detrimental to us and the world around us. 

Turtles; they use the light of the stars which reflect off the sea to guide them to the ocean after hatching. When man-made lights are misdirected or are brighter than the light reflecting off the ocean, the turtle hatchlings turn towards that light in hopes to find the sea. When the hatchling doesn’t find the ocean because of these lights, the turtle will get run over by a car, get eaten by a predator, die from starvation, etc. 

Birds; they use the stars as navigation and light. Birds get distracted and confused by bright lights coming from buildings and often fly into them, falling to their deaths. “Each year in New York City alone, about 10,000 migratory birds are injured or killed crashing into skyscrapers and high-rise buildings” (Ron Chepesiuk, Environmental Health Perspective). 

Humans; health problems such as breast cancer and upset circadian rhythms have been caused by light pollution. “‘…controlled laboratory studies do show that exposure to light during the night can disrupt circadian and neuroendocrine physiology, thereby accelerating tumor growth’” (Ron Chepesiuk, Environmental Health Perspective). People who work night shifts such as doctors and nurses often work long hours in artificial, man-made light. 

Many towns and cities have set ordinances in order to keep the light pollution to a minimum. There are many ways of directing light downwards and away from the night sky. The City Dark, a documentary about light pollution and how it affects us and the world explains how we can save the night sky and maintain its beauty. Keeping the sky dark should be a priority everywhere and to everyone because we are close to only having a couple places in the US and in the world that truly have dark and starry night skies.

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(Both pictures from John C. Wells Planetarium) 

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