“Star light, star bright
First star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish, I wish tonight.”
This favorite rhyme from childhood has become increasing difficult to fulfill in many places around the world due to glare from lights blotting out the stars in the night sky.When you have a chance to escape city lights and again see the marvelous night sky, as I did recently in Northern California, one has to wonder why we are so hellbent to destroy another one of those little aspects of life that make it so wonderful and worthwhile. As the photo from Calgary, Alberta, Canada shows below, sky glow has an eerie similarity to the initial flash of a nuclear bomb.
One of my favorite past times is to stargaze. In my youth, friends and I would spend many a warm summer evenings laying in the soft grass to stare up at the multitudes of twinkling little stars. How many kids, especially in urban areas can do that anymore? How many even realize what a spectacular wonder the night sky can be? For me, just one meteor/shooting star and I was hooked. Astronomy still remains my favorite science.
Instead, most of us are treated to an artificially created urban sky glow (a.k.a. halo effect) that effectively blots out all but the very brightest and boldest stars in the night sky. Artificial sky glow also significantly reduces our chances in the northern latitudes of seeing Mother Nature’s awesome special effects derived from the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights) as shown in this photo also from Canada – much more pleasing than the artificial sky glow over Calgary.
Urban halos are clearly visible from miles away (especially on cloudy nights) as streetlights, floodlights, lit signs. search lights, security lights, spot lights, landscaping lights, yard lights, headlights, traffic signals, and a myriad of other sky glow monsters proceed to fire up the night sky like a devilish dragon of perpetual doom. The urban halo literally robs us of a tremendous visual gift and replaces is with its own “aurora boring-all-us” of blandness.
Worst offenders for sky glow in my opinion – million footcandle canopy lights at 24/7 gas station/convenience stores. Where else can you work on your summer tan while filling up your car in January? Second worst – shopping centers and big box retailers that needless leave acres of 35 foot tall candle sticks lit in their parking lots well beyond their normal hours of operation.
So what is one to do about sky glow and the urban halo effect? Here are several options to consider. Additional suggestions are most welcome.
- Speak out in opposition to night time light pollution creating sky glow and the urban halo effect.
- Suggest your community adopt a lighting (or dark sky) ordinance that requires downshielding of lights and encourages retrofitting existing sky glow monsters.
- Douse your own lights. I am often astounded how many people leave exterior home and yard lights on all night.
- Fill out suggestion cards/websites for businesses asking them to downshield, dim, or turn off their outdoor lights.
- Hold community stargazing events/parties at schools and nature centers to introduce today’s youth to the wonders of the night sky.
- Join an active astronomy club and/or environmental organization that promote dark sky – such as the International Dark-Sky Association.
- Shop at businesses that comply with dark sky ordinances or who voluntarily reduce their light pollution.
- Penalize those who pollute the night sky with too much light.
- Ask you community to downshield its street lights.
- Ban search lights and spot lights.
By the way – my wish will be for young people throughout the world to have an opportunity to clearly view the awesome wonders of the night sky through stricter regulations to limit sky glow.
Here’s a terrific live performance by Metric of their great song “Artificial Nocturne” from the band’s latest album, Synthetica. The song isn’t directly relate to the topic, but the title sure fits the theme of this post. By the way, some of the lyrics are NSFW. Enjoy!