Starry Night Sky - Arches National Monument

 

The article, Our Vanishing Night in the November issue of National Geographic eloquently speaks out about the dilemma of our disappearing night skies.

Light pollution is the result of bad lighting design, scattering light in all directions instead of focusing it at a specific target needing to be lit, altering the habits of all the nocturnal creatures of the earth and having a detrimental health effect on humans as well.

"Of all the pollution we face, light pollution is perhaps the most easily remedied. Simple changes in light design and installation yield immediate changes in the amount of light spilled into the atmosphere and, often, immediate energy savings."

The initial efforts to curb light pollution were made by astronomers, specifically in Flagstaff, Arizona about 50 years ago. Since then and because of these efforts, we have learned that light pollution is not only a distraction to astronomy, but a health hazard to humans, birds, and other mammals.

Our need to bring the light of the day into the night has created this consequence we are now calling light pollution. The author points out the following specific consequences, including interruptions and changes in migration, feeding and breeding to birds, insects and other species that scientists are only recently beginning to study.

  • Bats feed on insects clustered around streetlights, changing their nocturnal habits.
  • In Switzerland, the European lesser horseshoe bat began to vanish after streetlights were installed. They could not compete with the light-feeding pipistrelle bats.
  • Desert rodents, fruit bats, opossums and badgers, foraging under the "permanent full moon of light pollution" are easier prey for their predators.
  • The breeding and migration habits of birds are being altered by the continuous light creating artificially long days.
  • Nesting sea turtles have lost most of their dark beaches causing their hatchlings to basically head in the wrong direction towards the city lights behind the beach where they are dying in the hundreds of thousands every year.
  • Our human internal clockwork is being tampered with as well, with the most publicized health consequence being higher rates of breast cancer in women.

Resources:

The World Atlas of the Artificial Night

International Dark Sky Association – Dark Sky Finder

Astronomy Picture of the Day – Protected Night Skies Over Flagstaff