“Waste not the smallest thing created, for grains of sand make mountains, and atomies infinity”
Light pollution interferes with night time viewing in a spectrum of ways. Light pollution casts limitations to not only astronomers but ecologists and other scientists as well. Today is the age of artificial light and light pollution extensively illuminates over large cities across the globe. The versions and description of these types of light pollutions include glare, sky glow, and near horizontal light. This limitation has a multiplying effect; it doesn’t just challenge scientists but also restricts the benefits of everyday people. When we limit the view of the night sky, we limit ourselves from having the window to the universe at its fullest potential.
Light pollution could be a nuisance in that if glare crosses property lines, it’s considered “light trespassing”. Light trespass doesn’t just affect viewing of the night sky but also carries with it other negative effects such as sleeplessness and even cancer. The International Dark Sky Association simply puts that, “light pollution is excessive and inappropriate artificial light at night.” In the age of industrialization, cities are seeing an increase of light pollution by 6% each year. Cities, such as Las Vegas, in which would otherwise be considered phenomenal areas for night sky viewing, are now hovered over with a thick blanket of artificial light. The more light pollution, the less visible the stars. Today, Astronomers and other night sky gazers find themselves having to travel farther and farther from civilization to get a good view of the night sky. Even the oblivious people are neglected from the natural skeptical the night sky brings.
The Bortle Scale measures the night time visualization in rural and urban areas. John E. Bortle classifies light pollution on a scale from 1 to 9. Class 1 being the ideal and darkest sky and 9 being the heaviest of light pollution. In a class 1 night sky; the stars, planets, moon, Milky Way and other constellations are visible to the naked eye. Also viewable is the galaxy M33 and the zodiacal light radiating with a rainbow of night time color. You may also get a glimpse of the earth’s natural sky glow. Class 9 is the typical rank for inner city areas where only a few stars, planets and the moon can be viewed. Time Square in New York is an area where night time viewing is practically non-existent and is ranked a 9.
History of Sky Gazing
Star gazing has been a part of human history since before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Star of Bethlehem marked the everlasting life of Jesus. Kings from ancient times would have astrologers look to the stars to predict their child’s future. The Aztecs set their calendar centuries in advance using the night sky as reference. As time carried on, more curiosity seeped in the window to the universe. Galileo, the father of modern observational astronomy, confirmed that the Milky Way radiated in the night sky due to a stream of star clusters. In Galileo’s time, the sky naturally inspired him to become an astronomer and physicist. In modern times, people are unable to look up to the stars and be inspired; therefore, their natural source of possible interests are restricted.
Types of Light Pollutions
The first type of light pollution is glare. Glare is that blinding ray of light that beams straight into the eyes and causes discomfort. This is a destructive type of light pollution but also the most avoidable. All it takes is a reinstallation or simply to be turned off. Remember, artificial light turns off, stars turn on. Glare is practically blinding. There are times when glare can be indirect yet it still produces a lighted shield in preventing a view of the night sky. Glare occurs when light fixtures are designed poorly and also when they are misplaced.
Sky glow is the second type of light pollution in which all the artificial light is gathered together and gives the glow over the atmosphere from the earth’s surface. It is important to know that the earth and sky give off natural sky glow but nothing compared to the glow produced from a city of artificial light. The sky glow of a modern day suburban city has a zenith of five to ten times brighter than the natural sky glow and a city can be up to fifty times brighter.
Third type of light pollution is near horizontal light. Near horizontal light are light rays that shine close, around ten degrees above, the horizon off earth towards the sky. According to Arthur R. Upgren, this is potentially the most destructive of light pollution.
Night time light is inevitable and does serve a great deal of purpose. “Good lighting is important for safety, security and recreation” (International Dark Sky Association). However, artificial light is being overused and becoming excessive. One pertinent and technical solution is cut-off shield lighting. This remedy is good for both glare and sky glow. Lamp lighting should be designed and set up so that the light shines directly down in the area of its intended use and not to shine upwards or sideways for any reason.
Another solution is energy efficiency. Don’t use night lighting unless it’s absolutely necessary for safety, security or recreation. And even if used for purpose, don’t use in excessiveness. The United States spends approximately $2.2 billion on energy every year. (International Dark Sky Association). Over-illumination does not only occur at night but in the day as well. Often it’s custom for office buildings to turn on all the fluorescent lights when the sun is shining. This is a complete and total waste. “Wasted light shines, where it doesn’t need to go. Photons that enter windows, invade other’s property, or are directed upward to contribute sky glow are obvious examples”. (International Dark Sky Association).
Last solution is to look up to the sky. Make it an experience that will naturally inspire and ignite the imagination. Pass this interest on to your family and friends and relish in its wonders together, never forgetting how small humanity is in the vast universe. The entire human race is a descendant from time periods of some of the most intellectual and curious ancestors known to man.
Photo courtesy of Prilfish/Flickr
Negative Effects of Light Pollution
All life on earth maintains a natural and biological clock that coincides with day and night time light. Sea turtles for instance are one species that currently struggle with light pollution. Mother nesters of sea turtles naturally look for dark and quiet spots to lay eggs. Beaches are illuminated with tourists, condominiums and resorts, so they encounter problems in laying eggs in their preferred optimal spots. If a mother nester chooses to lay her eggs on the urbanized beach shore, even her hatchlings will encounter problems. As the turtles hatch from their eggs on the sandy shore of the beach and race to find the ocean water; they rely on the light reflecting from the moon and/or stars on the water at night. Their natural instinct is to follow the light source; however, with the light reflecting from both the ocean and the city, baby sea turtles get turned around and some don’t make it to the ocean on time. They become disorientated and if they don’t choose the correct light source, they risk dying due to predators and dehydration.
Humans also are affected by light pollution. Humans are diurnal creatures and rely on the sunlight for awakening and activity. Artificial light has been engineered not for our natural necessity but for our desire to light the way during nighttime activities. NCBI writes, “Several studies over the last decade have suggested that the modern practice of keeping our bodies exposed to artificial light at night, or LAN, increases cancer risk, especially for cancers (such as breast and prostate) that require hormones to grow.” Overall, light pollution has many negative effects on the development of life for the eco-system, humanity and wild life.
Benefits of Star Gazing
There is no need to be an expert in science to relish in the benefits of seeping into all the possibilities of the 500 billion stars in the Milky Way, or the billions of galaxies beyond our own. Just a simple shooting star can make a person’s night completely and utterly magical. Wendell Berry states “To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings”.
Stargazing is a time to celebrate the universe and reflect on personal existence in it. To go beyond viewing is to study the universe and stay up to date on current events in space exploration and intergalactic discoveries. These are all very positive and proactive developments for the mind + body. It’s highly encouraged to make changes and acknowledge that the vast blanket of stars awaits humanity for discovery, imagination and empowerment every single night (that’s clear).
Light pollution is a problem that many people are not aware of and are completely oblivious to. Our nation and many other nations are being so industrialized that nature as it was meant to be is being lost in the mix. This in turn prevents many individuals from reaching their fullest potential. Knowledge is power and having access to the natural world around us at an optimum level, opens doors to knowledge. It’s critical to know the ramifications of industrialization which is vital to protecting human, animal and natural life on earth. Anything engineered is questionable and changeable.These are all points that we need to consider when building a home, a city, and installing lights. In any effort possible, at least one person can make a difference and that will count for something with the hope of others to follow.