This week, April 20 – 26, 2009, is National Dark Sky Week in the US.
Anne Minard from UniverseToday reminds us that while Earth Day gets one day (although I think every day should be Earth day), dark skies gets a whole week. So let’s not squandor it, please!
Wherever you live, I hope you are getting to enjoy darker skies. I’m afraid that this wasn’t publicized very well, though, so most people probably don’t know anything about it. As Anne Minard says, "If enough people participate, backyard and professional astronomers might be treated with a week of darker, starrier skies."
She also makes it clear that this is really about raising awareness about "sensible" lighting so that we might get more than one week a year of dark skies, even if everyone knew about this and participated.
Not only do astronomers benefit, but, as I’ve written in so many other posts, nighttime critters, birds, frogs and, yes, humans, will reap environmental and public health rewards as well. Light pollution is a serious problem that absolutely needs to be addressed.
Consider that before 1940, which really wasn’t all that long ago, the nights were mostly dark. Since then the nighttime skies have become increasingly brighter blotting out the darkness and the stars for inhabitants, including wildlife, of planet earth.
When Jennifer Barlow was still in high school in 2003, she responded to an internet message board where someone suggested dimming outdoor lights so people could "enjoy the heavens" by founding this event in 2003. She coordinated this effort with a website and according to a Sky & Telescope article, single handedly created this event.
After a year of dedicated work, Jennifer Barlow’s work paid off with endorsements from the American Astronomical League, the Internation Dark Sky Association and Sky & Telescope.
This year, the skies are darker over Flagstaff, Arizona. The Grand Canyon is darker, especially on the north side. Anne Minard reports that the views in the Grand Canyon are "as stunning and magical" as during the day.
The word hasn’t gotten to the folks in Phoenix and Las Vegas, though, because those cities create light pollution that creep into the skies as far as 200 miles away in Northern Arizona. I remember this myself driving at night down the interstate in the late 70’s seeing the bright glow of Phoenix from over a hundred miles away.
If you are reading this, please take part in National Dark Sky Week. It’s such an easy and truly rewarding thing to do.