Ponder light pollution –
Ponder light pollution –
The term skyglow evokes poetic images – sunset petticoats of periwinkle clouds caught in flirtatious embrace with plump pomegranate horizons, gossamer tendrils of moonlight skipping playful stones across still water, calming arias of ethereal pre-dawn planetary conjunctions – all glow, not one defines skyglow.
Skyglow is light pollution. Artificial, unshielded, unnatural light directed upward into the atmosphere. We’ve all seen distant glowing domes over towns and cities while driving at night, that is skyglow – the reason I strain to hear childhood stars sing.
In 1928 naturalist and writer Henry Beston published The Outermost House. In it he wrote –
Our fantastic civilization has fallen out of touch with many aspects of nature, and with none more completely than with night. Primitive folk, gathered at a cave mouth round a fire, do not fear night; they fear, rather, the energies and creatures to whom night gives power; we of the age of the machines, having delivered ourselves of nocturnal enemies, now have a dislike of night itself. With lights and ever more lights, we drive the holiness and beauty of night back to the forests and the sea; the little villages, the crossroads. Are modern folk, perhaps, afraid of night? Do they fear that vast serenity, the mystery of infinite space, the austerity of stars? Having made themselves at home in a civilization obsessed with power, which explains its whole world in terms of energy, do they fear at night for their dull acquiescence and the pattern of their beliefs? Be the answer what it will, today’s civilization is full of people who have not the slightest notion of the character or the poetry of night, who have never even seen night. Yet to live thus, to know only artificial night, is as absurd as to know only artificial day.
― Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928
Entirely light polluted Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – “In Shenandoah National Park, only the occasional passing clouds block enough light from the surrounding cities to offer visitors a decent view of the heavens. With an estimated light pollution growth at 6 percent a year, National Parks, along with all of the developed world, may lose their dark skies by the end of the 21st Century.” – https://skyglowproject.com/#dark-sky-movement
In 1958 Flagstaff, Arizona became the first city to pass light pollution laws. City ordinances prohibited the use of commercial search lights within city limits, violation of said ordinance was punishable by up to 90 days in jail. In 2001 the International Dark Sky Association named Flagstaff the first international dark sky community in recognition of pioneering efforts to maintain dark skies.A well deserved nod born in 1958, schooled through 1973 when Flagstaff’s county of Coconino passed sweeping lighting code regulations, and educated by 1981 when all illuminated billboards were banned.
Flagstaff is world’s only city of 100,000+ residents to feature readily-available dark skies.
With the estimated light pollution growth of 6% a year, all of developed world may lose its dark skies by the end of the 21st century.
“Skyglow” is also a project by timelapse photographers Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Hefferman to raise awareness of light pollution. Spend a video moment with Gavin and Harum, it will forever change how you gaze at night skies. –
“The age of dark skies, with us from the very beginning of humanity, has come to an abrupt end.” – https://skyglowproject.com/#music
Born under starry skies, rural seclusion wrapped childhood in the Milky Way. Constant, permanent, watchful – I left for city lights without saying goodbye. We still see each other every few years, picking up where we left off like old friends do. When time comes to part I wave goodbye, mindful of cosmic wonders that shaped my life. Pondering the fact 80% of people alive today have never seen the Milky Way.
Timelapse photography has become an obsession. When words fail, or concepts taunt abilities to temper information against the magnitude of my enthusiasm – the right timelapse rivets unsuspecting acquaintances to the floor. Cosmic wonder can’t be taught, it has to be found.
Two of my favorites, Skyfall and Sunchaser –
Check out timelapses by Gavin Heffernan at Sunchaser Pictures –
I’ll never forsake stars, they’re as much who I am as the air I breath. A rural child, raised decades before electronic distractions – stars were my universe. A portal entered with nothing more than imagination. Mythology danced before my eyes – never forced, elusive or fleeting. Constellations made sense of history – I gazed upon stars just as ancients once looked to the cosmos for answers. Taken for granted my stars would never fade. Not until decades of emptiness met circumstance in the middle of night- a abandoned highway somewhere in Arizona, did I realize how I longed for my stars. Unfettered by light pollution – I welcomed lost stars.
Reality of light pollution – equal parts inevitable and devastating, led me to ponder how many stars we can see. The answer is – not many. Get away from urban illumination, give yourself half an hour or so adjusting to darkness – maybe you’ll see a few thousand. Deposit yourself in the middle of an Arizona wasteland, undoubtedly that number rises. The trouble is – few of us bother with Arizona nights.
Ponder the day when all who remember stars are gone, when no child rests on summer’s night grass becoming one with the ancients. Imagine not finding the North Star or plucking Orion’s belt from the sky.
San Francisco night sky as viewed without light pollution. – Thierry Cohen
Click on the link to view images of night sky sans light pollution images of 10 major cities by Thierrry Cohen…
Watching this time lapse video by Mike Flores – 4 years ago in Baja California – illustrates ancient civilization’s keen understanding of the cosmos. Ponder a world unfettered by light pollution – imagine this on the “big screen” every night – galactic awareness would become second nature.
This graphic sums up modern reality – a majority of Earth’s citizens live within the spectrum of the first two night skies. All but a handful of the brightest objects hopelessly lost to light pollution. I’ve used the 1994 Los Angelos Northridge earthquake example on many occasions – when the city lost power, frantic citizens called 911 and the Griffith Observatory, terrified by the appearance of a “strange, giant, silvery cloud” – it never occurred to say hello to the Milky Way.
I’ve often asked myself if modern indifference towards the natural world stems from fading reminders of our place in the cosmos. Ancient people built mythology around celestial observations – cosmic shifts and alignments dictated planting, harvest. Elaborately woven lore binding earth and sky. The world made sense because nothing was taken for granted.
We’ve lost the one perspective able to put us in our place – the ability to look up and see we’re part of a very big universe. It may not be possible to find a corner dark enough to see the universe as ancient people did – watching Mike Flores video is a great place to start.