Dark Skies & Night Lights

Milky Way

Milky Way (Photo credit: TierraLady)

The only time I’ve ever seen a truly dark sky was while staying in a cabin near Hartsop in the Lake District, once my eyes had adjusted I could clearly see the misty band of stars we call the Milky Way, the Via Lactea, home.

I know in this country the weather has a lot to do with this but light pollution from streetlights, security lights and so on also makes a huge and surprising difference, even a town over the horizon can still cast a glow where you are.  Many people ask why it matters, it’s only astronomers and misty-eyed romantics that want to gaze at these distant pinpricks of light.  You may as well ask why people want to look at flowers – some study them, some find them beautiful.  Seeing the light of the galaxy from somewhere away from streetlights can give you a feeling of awe, of being a tiny speck in a unimaginably vast universe.  That sight inspired astronomers and philosophers for centuries to seek the answers to what was out there, where we are and along the way they created instruments and developed sciences to discover and explain what they saw that have benefits beyond their original purpose for example the glasses I wear are possible because of lens grinding techniques developed for telescopes.

The modern world is lit up so much that out planet looks like some kind of cosmic glitterball and most of the light that is emitted upwards is wasted.  Well, except for landing lights at airports, we need them.  It is worth fitting newer shaded lights and more efficient bulbs and even new lighting technologies to both save money and let people look at the night skies.  Flagstaff, Arizona is the worlds first International Dark Sky City and hopefully more towns and cities will follow their example.

[International Dark Sky Organization]

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