Flip the Switch to Bring Back the Dark Night Sky

Go lights out!

You can see the Milky Way when there is no artificial light.

(JohaPlay / Shutterstock.com)

The deep and dark night sky is filled with wonder. Looking up at the bright stars, mysterious planets, and ancient constellations evokes a timeless feeling.

Today, populated areas around the globe are enveloped in a type of fog that disconnects people from that stunning nocturnal sky, but reducing light pollution can help to restore the wonder. It all starts with spreading awareness, as well as implementing a few simple changes right in one’s backyard.

After the sun sets, cities and suburbs across the globe are lit up with artificial lights. They glow along roads and highways and flood fields in sport stadiums. They also illuminate skyscrapers, malls, and flashing electronic signs. These lights negatively impact wildlife and people’s health, according to the website Conserve Energy Future.

This light pollution has caused migrating birds to lose their way and confuses nocturnal animals. Artificial lighting has also caused the firefly population to completely disappear in some areas, while lighthouse beams negatively impact marine species. In fact, in the US and Canada, 18 species of firefly are now classified as being threatened with a high risk of extinction in the next ten years, reported CBS News.

Just leaving that porch light on affects the behavior of nocturnal pollinators like moths, according to yahoo!news, causing them to fly towards the light and not the flowers. This, in turn, negatively affects plants’ abilities to bear fruit and to reproduce.

Creating light pollution awareness
Many people are aware of many types of pollution including air, water, and land, but few realize that strong artificial lighting is disruptive to all mammals, including humans, according to the organization DarkSky International.

In order to bring awareness to the importance of darkness, researchers compiled a world atlas of artificial night sky brightness, which is published in Science Advances. Their findings reveal that 80 percent of the world population lives under a sky glow, with more than 99 percent of Americans and Europeans living under light-polluted skies. The beautiful Milky Way is obscured from the view of more than one third of the world’s population, including 80 percent of North Americans.

Time to flip the switch
Although individuals cannot control the highway and city lights, they can make a difference at home. And if everyone were to “flip the switch”, it could help to bring back natural darkness in some areas. DarkSky makes it easy by offering a guide for responsible outdoor lighting at home.

It all starts in the backyard, according to the guide. The idea is to only light areas where light is needed and to aim the light beam downwards. Try to use low-level lighting and be aware that some surfaces reflect more light into the sky. Other tips are to use motion sensors and timers for your night lighting and to turn outdoor lights off when not needed.

One non-electrical option is to use reflective paints or self-luminous markers to light up steps, signs, and curbs. Use warm lights and minimize blue emission when lighting outdoor areas, suggests Conserve Energy Future.

Use LEDS and compact fluorescents as they have reduced luminance and are energy efficient. And when it comes to holiday festivities, cut back on outdoor house decorations. This means keeping your yard dark by forgoing outdoor electrical decorations and stringed lights in tree branches.

Keep the indoor light inside by pulling your  curtains shut at night, suggests yahoo!news. Gardeners can also encourage nocturnal pollinators by planting a moon garden.

It all starts at home. If more people were aware of the sanctity of darkness, its wonders could return. In the near future, this may even enable children to look up and marvel at the night sky right outside their window, and perhaps even observe the flickering glow of a firefly.

7 Best Vacation Spots in the US to Stargaze
This City is Dimming its Lights and Going Dark Sky
Germany to Revitalize its Insect Population by Dimming its Night Sky