Dark Sky Parks: Reclaiming the Stars from the Clutches of Light Pollution

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Image: Woody Welch
An impressive telescope inside McDonald Observatory

Nicknamed the “Godfather of Dark Skies” by one fellow astronomer, Wren advocates a smarter use of light that helps both preserve the night skies and save us money. “Light source isn’t the critical issue – what matters is where the light goes when it leaves the fixture,” explains Wren. “Well-designed, or shielded, fixtures efficiently shine light downward – not wastefully into the sky – which saves money and energy plus improves visibility.” Or as the IDA puts it, “Light what you need, when you need it.”


Image: Woody Welch
The park is lit enough to be safe, yet it doesn’t obscure the night sky.

According to the IDA, light pollution is growing at an even more rapid rate than the world’s population. And as more and more countries begin to develop and increase their dependency on electric lighting, so there is less dark sky left at which to marvel. The IDA says that in the US alone, lighting accounts for 22 percent of all energy usage, and eight percent of this is employed in illuminating public places. More importantly, all around the world there is little or no regulation on the amount of lighting used, which is something dark sky lobbyists are trying to change.

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Image: Woody Welch
Light only shines where it is needed.

As the IDA points out, brighter is not necessarily better, and light pollution not only spoils our astronomical observations but also impacts our health. Researchers say that the effects of too much unnatural lighting can range from disrupted sleep patterns, to diminished melatonin production, and even to an increased likelihood of cancer. Also, according to some experts, bright security lighting doesn’t necessarily increase personal safety, and in some cases it can actually encourage criminal behavior. This is because lighting may draw attention to possible targets, making it easier for criminals to quickly and quietly plan their movements. Plus, bright security lights can impact the image quality of CCTV and dazzle those who might otherwise witness crimes.

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