The vanishing night sky. According to the New York Times 80% of Americans cannot see the Milky Way due to light pollution from cities. The Times Story centers on the interesting efforts of two small Colorado towns to save what’s left of their evening star field.
So for more than a decade, the two towns and a local dark-sky nonprofit have been dialing down the dimmer switch. They have replaced streetlights and passed rules requiring that outdoor lights point down. The group built a small observatory with star guides who tee up its telescope and take people on a tour of the night. They coax homeowners to hood their porch lamps or dim a bright light outside their house.
“People out of ignorance go with whatever’s cheap or whatever’s brightest,” said Ed Stewart, a board member of the local dark-sky group. “You multiply that by 200, 300, and there goes the sky.”
Man has two needs for nighttime lights: one being of necessity (we’re busy these days), the other of primal fear of the dark. I understand the need to see in order to do things after hours though I have never shared the fear. I like the night. I like the stars in the sky.
I like in between two of those places where one can’t really see anything of the stars. One or two (or two hundred) may be visible through the haze of city lights. Clearer, cooler, less humid weather helps. But even when one things the view is pretty good, it isn’t.
I grew up just outside of a small town. Then I could see many more stars than now though the glow of the town consumed half the western view. It’s like that now except the glow is all around with a few stars peeking out here and there. That’s most people’s experience.
I’ve had the luxury of being in the middle of nowhere, either the sea or way out west – not far from those Colorado towns. Out there, miles from development, one can see everything. The view is so clear one can even make out satellites as they pass around the Earth. It’s amazing.
Times story photo (edited).
I was far away nearly twenty years ago and I remember stopping my car to look at the stars. I saw the Hale-Bopp comet pass overhead. The next morning I read about the Heaven’s Gate nuts in California. Their’s was a different experience; they vanished like the sky.
Still, this modern problem has some pretty easy fixes. One need not move from the city (though that might not be a bad idea) for a clear view. Those small towns are on to something. Lights can be adjusted and we don’t really need that many of them. No fear. Nothing really goes bump in the dark other than the satellites and shooting stars. The stars actually provide a pale light, usually enough to see by. The moon adds to it. It’s not so bad, or so dark, in the dark.