Sunday, December 28, 2008

Light Trespass aka Light Pollution

Light Pollution destroys the views of the heavens that man has enjoyed since the beginning of time. I cannot imagine how humbing the experience must have been to look heavenward in the days before electricity. The stars must have stood out like tiny fireballs.
90% of all American live under skies that are "affected" by light pollution while roughly half can not see the Milky Way from their homes. This is a shame. Mankind has throughout history looked to the stars to try to understand events around them.
The effects of light pollution as shown on the Orion nebula
Light Pollution picture of Earth at night.

Light Trespass or Light Pollution has only really become a problem in my and my memory’s lifetime. I well remember when the term first came into popular use and you didn’t have to be a scientist to see the effects.

The most well-known form of light pollution is light that is used in a place where it is wanted (to illuminate the outside of a building at night for example) and spills over into a place it is not wanted (the bedroom window of the house next door). Light has many advantages if used correctly; but, when used incorrectly can cause many problems that one is not even aware of until it is too late.

At one time, if you were driving and a town was on the other side of the horizon you didn’t know it was there because you couldn’t see it. Now, while you can’t see the actual town due to the horizon blocking it, you can see the glow above the horizon from all the light pollution. There is no mistake there is a town on the other side of the horizon. You no longer have to see it to know it’s there. As the picture above shows, the glow from the electricity used on earth can be seen on satellite pictures.

The night sky at Galloway Forest Park
Galloway Forest Park in southern Scotland is set to be Europe’s first official dark sky park. It may seem an unlikely place to have a park. After all, it’s surrounded by 300 sq. mi. of moorland, woods and lochs forming a rugged, unforgiving wilderness in a row of mountains whimsically named the Range of the Awful Hand.

From the car park in the foothills, it is a short walk to what is probably the darkest place in the country. After dark you are unlikely to run into anyone else up there; however, there is a small group of devotees who wait for nightfall to look and ponder their own significance in the grand scheme of things.

It is the profound lack of light that draws the dedicated to view the spectacular night sky as it can be seen only near zero light conditions. This spot is so remote that on a cloudless night it offers a view of the heavens that can be seen nowhere else on Earth. Among its offerings are rare chances to see shooting stars and the distant Andromeda galaxy, the aurora borealis and stellar nurseries
where suns are born to shine on alien planets.

Only two other parks in the world, one in Pennsylvania, the other in Utah, have been recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association, ( a US-based organization that seeks to preserve and celebrate the darkest corners of the Earth.

With increasing urbanization comes better-lit streets, roads and buildings, which send light needlessly up into the sky, obscuring all but the brightest stars. According to some estimates, the amount of light that leaks into space costs around £110m ($163m US) a year (in the UK). Now that I know how much a relatively small country such as the UK wastes in electricity alone, I’ve decided I’m too mentally unstable to handle what it would be worldwide.

"If you go out in an urban street and look up at night, you might see 50, maybe 100 stars at best. But come to our park and when you look up and let your eyes adjust, there are so many stars you can't count them. You see shooting stars, satellites and the Milky Way, with its billions of stars. You don't even need a high-powered telescope: a pair of binoculars is brilliant," said Keith Muir, recreation officer at Galloway Forest Park.

Steven Owens, an astronomer who is coordinating the UK's involvement in the International Year of Astronomy, said: "We've become a very urban population; and, in doing so, we've cut ourselves off from experiences people have had for hundreds and thousands of years.

"People have been looking up at the night sky, telling stories and passing on myths and legends for the entirety of recorded human history. But when we moved into cities, we lost that very deep connection with the universe. In setting up dark sky parks, we're trying to reconnect people with nature."

Kukula, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, said designated dark sky parks were needed to put the brakes on the rapidly vanishing natural beauty of the night sky. "This is a part of our heritage that we're losing. If we concreted over the countryside and bulldozed the forests, there would be an outcry; but, this has sneaked up on us, and people don't realize what we are doing. The night sky is an amazing spectacle that 90% of the population doesn't get to see," he said.

Next blog: How to make changes in your own home that will help cut down on light trespass. How to try to make changes in your own city? Websites that will help you learn more about light trespass, what you can do about it and what some organizations are already doing to reduce it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?