Most of us lead busy lives. We live in a constant state of exhaustion and everywhere there is light. We once feared the dark as a species, evolved as we were to use sight to alert us to danger. First fire then electric light kept us safe from the creatures of the night; both the real and the imagined hunters in the dark. Now we flood our cities with light, like a beacon, as if we were trying to become our own star. Generation after generation forgetting the stories created and learned by are predecessors about the celestial bodies that float in the heavens. Whole constellations lost, their light hidden by our fear of the dark.
The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”― Carl Sagan
Years ago on our first big vacation together Keltin and I woke up stupid early to try and take Milky-Way pictures at the top of Trail Ridge Road. We did not get any good pictures; there was too much cloud cover. Those same clouds made for wonderful sunrise shots though. The night around us was an inky blackness and I got an irrational shiver of fear every time I clicked off the flashlight. Without being able to face that fear of the dark, I wouldn’t be able to see the majesty of the cosmos.
Without seeing the heavens how are we to connect with a wide universe? According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, “Night skies are fading and natural darkness is disappearing. An estimated 80 percent of Americans have never seen the Milky Way. The culprit: the growing glow of artificial lights.” As the days grow colder here in the northern hemisphere I always search for Orion but how many know nothing of his gleaming belt?
International Dark Sky Places
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an International Dark Sky Park. Even there, it is worth speaking to the park rangers about the best places to capture astrophotography shots due to the light pollution from Montrose. According to DarkSky.org, “International Dark Sky Places Program (IDSP)…encourage communities, parks and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education.” There are now 180 IDSPs in the world. That is a good and *hopefully* growing number but it is a small percentage of the world. According to DarkSky.org there are multiple benefits to designated dark sky places:
- More visitors
- Economic benefits of increased visitor count
- Darker skies are better for wildlife
Light Pollution and Wildlife
Light pollution doesn’t just separate humans from the beauty of the heavens and what we can learn there, It mess with our sleep patterns and that of wildlife. Light pollution disrupts the predator-prey dynamic and those creates that are fed upon has fewer places to hide. This can be seen in real time on any night dive, just shine a dive light on a small fish and watch a large one swoop in for an easy meal.
Firefly, that dance so beautifully in the dark of the forest, have lower population numbers because they cannot see the flashes of their fellow fireflies light. Baby turtles are confused by artificial lights and head inland instead of to the bright horizon that is the sea. Migratory birds are thrown off course by the uncaring light of cities, many die crashing into the lit windows of building.
What We Can Do:
Light pollution is a waste of dark skies and energy which can cost you. Here are some suggests from DarkSky.org, in addition to donating:
- Assess the lighting around your residence.
- Use dark sky friendly lighting at your home and business.
- Visit an International Dark Sky Place.
“I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly–or ever– gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe. And as the astounding vastness of the universe becomes obscured, there is a throwback to a vision of a universe that essentially amounts to earth, or one’s country, or state or city. Perspective becomes myopic. But a clear night sky and a little instruction allows anyone to soar in mind and imagination to the farthest reaches of an enormous universe in which we are but a speck. And there is nothing more exhilarating and humbling than that.”– Dr. Brian Greene, science.nasa.gov
If you are interested in learning about more about the importance of dark skies, check out these resources that helped me in my research.
We are connected to the universe. We are made of it and through it we can observe ourselves in a way. We may feel small when viewing the wonder of the cosmos but so do out problems. What do you think when you observe the universe? Let me know in the comments and may your stargazing be awe inspiring.
Thank you KW Photography for allowing me to use your wonderful photos!
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