“As long as one person lives in darkness then it seems to be a responsibility to tell other people.” –Bill Hicks
If you’ve ever been out in the wilderness at night, in a place where it truly gets dark, and where you’ve got, as the English band Keane would tell you,
On a moonless night, depending on the quality of your darkness, not only is the Milky Way visible, but anywhere from 6,000 up to a maximum of 45,000 naked-eye stars are available to the keenest of observers.
Although, quite possibly, this may be grossly inaccessible to you.
This picture of Europe at night has been making its rounds this week, and while it may have its own type of beauty to it, all of this light that you see is wasted. This is light that doesn’t light up the cities and streets, but that rather heads up, into the atmosphere, and pollutes your view of the night sky.
Want to see the difference that one major light source can make to your view of the night sky?
This picture, from Ontario, Canada, shows the dramatic effects of light pollution on just what you see in the night sky. There are a great many people, in fact, who never have had access to truly dark skies.
And that’s really a shame, because take a look at how dramatic the differences are between what you can see in an urban setting to what you can see under “true” darkness on Earth.
The darkest of night skies, for thousands of years, was something available to all humans. If we were more responsible about the way we choose to light our cities, towns, and roads, we could all have that once again. It isn’t even that hard.
By simply replacing the most common types of street lamps — the first two — with the rightmost type, we would not only significantly reduce our cities’ use of electricity at night, and we would not only improve visibility (which this also does), but we would get our night skies back. Take a look at the most famous winter constellation in the northern hemisphere, Orion, and what it currently looks like in suburban areas, versus what it would look like under dark sky conditions.
While one normally thinks of the United States as the world leader in energy consumption, Europe has the U.S. beat in terms of light pollution. Take a look at NASA’s image of the Earth at night, below.
While less than 50% of the United States has access to skies dark enough to view the Milky Way, true darkness is virtually unattainable almost everywhere on the entire continent of Europe.
And while conservation efforts — like the much-needed International Dark Sky Association — are extremely important and would do a world of good, such things are woefully ineffective. The problem has not only gotten much worse over the last 50 years, it’s continuing to get worse.
Well, one very beautiful town in New Zealand has decided to do something incredibly positive about it. Take a look at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, with a population of less than 1,000 people.
They are trying to get their town designated as a World Heritage Site for their skies, as the very first starlight reserve on Earth! A rarity, Lake Takepo has some of the darkest skies available in electrified areas inhabited by humans, where true darkness can be achieved on a moonless night.
This needs to happen quickly, because a small town as distant as 50 kilometers away could ruin this darkness for everyone. But I think this is an amazing idea and a beautiful sight that not only needs to be preserved, but it would do the whole world good to give these skies to everyone.
And that’s a beautiful thought for the weekend; hope you all enjoy it!