Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dim Your Lights for International Dark Skies Week

by Sara N.

As a global community, we humans disagree on many things, from sports (soccer, ugh) to celebrities (really, Germany? David Hasselhoff?) to food (these pizza toppings are an abomination). But if there's one thing that everyone on this planet can probably agree on, it's that stars are pretty cool.

From MOMA.org
They shine down on us from the velvety night sky, making us feel both small and infinite at the same time. Unfortunately, light pollution from our ever-growing cities is robbing the stars of their power and dulling night skies around the world. That's why this week has been named International Dark Skies Week. Here's how you can join in.

(Note: You'll enjoy this post more if you listen to Don McLean singing "Vincent" while you read.)

The event is organized by the International Dark-Sky Association, which reports that less than one-third of the globe lives under skies lit naturally by the moon and stars; the other two-thirds are exposed to excessive artificial light.

April is Global Astronomy Month.

The group, which was founded by high schooler Jennifer Barlow in 2003, has a number of suggestions for ways that you can get involved.
  • Check your outdoor lights to see if they're shielded or angled downward to keep the illumination on your property and out of the skies.
  • Swap out always-on exterior lights for motion detectors.
  • Perform an outdoor lighting audit on your home. (The link is aimed at kids but still has good information.)
  • Talk to your neighbors about getting less intrusive lighting. Here's a guide with suggestions to get the conversation started. (I hope your neighbors are more approachable than mine.)
  • Volunteer to report and map light pollution in your community.
  • Attend a stargazing event near you. Here's a list of Night Sky Network Astronomy events this week; check to see if anything's happening locally.
  • The IDA has a number of other suggestions for you to check out.
If you follow I Fucking Love Science on Facebook (and if you don't, what are you waiting for?), you may have seen the image below showing John Bortle's classification system demonstrating how light pollution can steal the stars from the skies. I'm lucky enough to live somewhere between a 5 and a 3 (which I suppose would be a 4, duh), and I can drive to a 1 or 2 fairly easily. And I may just do that the night of April 22, when the Lyrid meteor shower is expected to produce up to 10-20 meteors an hour with bursts of up to 100 an hour.

Photo from IFLS

Beyond a better view of meteor showers, there are good reasons to take steps to minimize your nighttime light footprint. Harsh, artificial lights at night have been found to cause fatal collisions in migratory birds and to confuse hatchling sea turtles trying to find the ocean. Trees exposed to certain nighttime light grow too far into the season and are damaged by the cold weather. Moths find it harder to navigate and therefore don't pollinate night-blooming flowers as well. Overall, confusing day and night can mess with the sleep/wake/eat/hunt/mate cycles of countless animals, including humans. That seems worth becoming away of your own outdoor light usage, doesn't it?

Finally, because it never gets old, here's a look at the Earth from space. 

From NASA's astronomy photo of the day
How are the stars where you live?
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1 comment:

  1. I live in Beijing. Due to the smog and the eternal lights, we're lucky if our sky is a 9 - usually you can't see anything at all. Very jealous that you live somewhere with a good night sky!! :)