15 August 2013

The forgotten pollution: light

I suppose young people nowadays must get tired of hearing their elders proclaim how certain things were better in "the old days."  But I'm going to do just that, regarding the sky at night, because The Atlantic has an excellent, extended post on the subject of light pollution, as part of a review of a new book.

I grew up in the Midwest in the 1950s.  In those years, when you looked up there were stars by the thousands.

Now the typical American experience is so distorted that when a power outage blackens a city, some  residents phone police and emergency services with questions about unusual sightings in the sky (celestial objects).  This composite depicts the effects of light pollution on the observable night sky:

 More at The Atlantic (whence the images).

p.s. - recommended reading:  Asimov's Nightfall.


  1. I loved camping in north Idaho in the late 1970s, SO MANY STARS.

    I just noticed last weekend that the observatory on the University of Washington campus has large trees growing around it, and they have almost entirely overgrown it. Even if light levels allowed it's use these days, the trees block most of the sky.

    1. Since I haven't lived in the Northwest for many years, I don't actually know, but I would suspect that the University allowed the observatory to be overgrown by trees BECAUSE of the light pollution. Additionally, I also suspect that were light levels to drop to far lower levels, and the observatory became useful again, they would cut back the trees.

  2. I believe every bit of it. When I showed my kids where I lived as a young child in Knoxville, and told them how my parents taught themselves to drive in the middle of the night there, they don't believe me. Back then, there was an empty area between towns, and now it's hard to tell where one town ends and another begins, all bound together by interstate highway and exits with sprawling shopping centers.

    When I was a teenager, my friends and I would sleep under the stars and watch meteors in the pasture. Now even that small farm has a water park and a ballpark complex on it.

  3. We are lucky enough to live fairly close to a dark sky preserve -- Mt Kobau. While it's sad to note that we need such a thing as a dark sky preserve, it's also quite wonderful. The town close by (Osoyoos) has taken on measures to reduce light pollution to help maintain the dark sky.

    Information on Mt. Kobau

    A local B&B with an observatory


  4. I think realizing that we are all on a giant rock spinning through space is bad for the economy. So it has to be kept a secret.

    If folks start finding tangible connections to the ground they walk on they might also begin to value nature - which almost certainly means they will start going outside, caring about the environment, etc.

    Sorry, stars, you are bad for progress.


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