Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
24 Jan

Why the Night Sky Matters: The Ramifications of Light Pollution

nightskyCarrie and I are lucky enough to have a hot tub in our back yard, overlooking a pretty spectacular ocean and mountain view. We often soak for a while and talk about the day’s activities just before retiring to bed (I sometimes alternate with a quick plunge or two into our unheated pool). Last night we were taking advantage of the break between winter storms to “jacuze” when I noticed that the cloud cover had so dispersed the city lights of L.A. and Santa Monica that it lit up the sky even 20 miles out into Malibu. On an otherwise moonless night, it had become light enough to simulate dusk all over L.A.. Can you imagine the amount of manmade light it takes to have that effect? Of course, that got me thinking about all the ways in which light permeates our lives in ways both good and bad.

These days, mentioning the words “pollution” or “environment” raises hackles in some, perhaps most people. Political blinders go up, knee-jerk responses engage. Support for classically green renewables like wind or solar power usually comes with unequivocal and emotional disdain for any and all variations of nuclear. On the same token, those who question the legitimacy of anthropogenic global warming often display a lack of concern for the effects of fracking, industrial pollution, or rampant use of agricultural pesticides. Now, I’m not wading into that morass, mind you. This isn’t the place for that. I am, however, calling to attention the fact that both (albeit amorphous, roughly defined) groups have a major blind spot: light pollution. And it’s not that they reject it as a problem. It’s that they are simply unaware it even exists (maybe it’s all the bright lights).

So what exactly is light pollution?

Well, it’s not light as in mild, harmless, or barely-there. It’s not gentle pollution, and it’s nothing like “light to moderate drinking.” Light pollution is characterized by excessive amounts of artificial light. Light that shouldn’t be there, light that you can’t escape from. It’s light that fills city streets at night – all night – and extends upward to obscure our view of the stars. It’s the blinding white and blue light streaming from big screen TVs, laptops, and lamps, and it’s the little niggling lights that pepper the interiors of our homes, winking at us from Blu-ray players and gaming consoles and clock radios even as we (try to) sleep.

In other words, light pollution exists inside and outside our homes. It affects both the environment at large and the individual inhabitants within. It is micro and macro. In the modern world it is, for the most part, inescapable.

I won’t delve too deeply into the negative effects of artificial light on human health as it relates to circadian rhythm, because I’ve already covered those. Quickly, though, some of the research:

Night time exposure to blue (artificial) light can suppress melatonin production, thereby disrupting sleep, reducing quality of sleep, throwing off circadian rhythm, and even promoting certain cancers.

Computer light exposure at night affects circadian rhythm and cognitive performance.

Continuous light exposure might hamper our ability to process carbohydrates, particularly in the liver.

According to a large review titled “The Dark Side of Light at Night,” (PDF) shift workers (a proxy for night time light exposure) get more cancer, heart disease, and are more likely to be obese. They also experience great oxidative stress loads and have compromised immune systems. Shift workers might represent the extreme end of nighttime light exposure, but they show the potential negative ramifications of even constant low-level exposure for everyone else.

But besides all the measurable, objective, physiologically-harmful effects of too much artificial light, there are the intangibles. That’s what this post is really about. Who else was lucky enough to spend their childhood summer nights on the roof or in the open field, gazing up at the millions of stars set against the backdrop of eternity? I was, and it’s what I still look forward to most of all about camping. When I sneak away from the fire and catch a break in the canopy, I stop and stare up above at the stars, those same heavenly mysteries that got our ancestors thinking, poking, prodding, and striving for more. Though today I know that they represent far flung galaxies of eons past and that that bluish “star” is actually Venus, a planet covered by volcanoes and rocky deserts – while thirty thousand years ago mankind looked up and concocted wondrous tales of gods and celestial beasts – that knowledge is suddenly meaningless once I begin to gaze. I’m caught up, emotional, dare-I-say “spiritual” – a lot like how our ancestors must have felt when they looked up at night. I’m lost in the limitlessness. I’m a kid again, suddenly struck with the realization of just how small I am and of the extrinsic meaninglessness of it all. Nature, remember, is neutral, and it becomes evident that we create our own meaning – it’s actually intrinsic, it comes from within – and set our own path. It’s all on us, and I’m reminded of this essential fact because of that brief brilliant moment with the stars.

If we allow light pollution to progress unabated, we lose that relationship. Many of us have, for all intents and purposes, already lost it – if we ever had it at all. But at least the opportunity remains. I mean, the stars are still there, if you get the heck out of Dodge. And if you can drag your kid outside city limits to shift his gaze from smart phone upward toward the relatively untouched sky, he might learn something about what it means to be human. Strip away all the luxuries and technology and just stick a modern city dweller in an open meadow in the middle of nowhere in the black of night and direct his or her attention skyward. If only for a moment, he’ll be like Luke Skywalker staring out at the night sky in “A New Hope” (with fewer suns) and thinking of rebel fleets and hyperspace travel.

That brings me to my final beef with light pollution: the extinguishing of a potent source of inspiration for greatness. From the ancients using astronomy to align their superstructures, to Newton drawing on the movement of celestial bodies to formulate basic theories of physics, to poets and authors and other artists (“Starry Night,” anyone?) creating work after a night spent stargazing, we do and have done great things with regular access to unfiltered night skies. I tend to think we have a lot ahead of us, too, if we’d give ourselves the chance. Misappropriation or lack of funding is the oft-cited cause of the US space program’s sorry state, but I feel like a lack of public fervor for all things stellar is at the root of it. People just don’t – or can’t – look up and marvel at the amazing ocular feast residing above anymore, and so they don’t dream of visiting it. Public officials don’t feel pressured to support it (besides, there are far more lucrative things to be doing with our tax money, like subsidizing their friends). Kids don’t seem to dream about becoming astronauts. I dunno about you, but that’s sad to me. The childhood version of Mark Sisson figured there’d be interstellar commercial travel and permanent bases on Mars by 2012. Adult version of Mark Sisson is highly disappointed that there is neither (but he hasn’t quite lost hope).

But we can’t go out and bust street lights with slingshots; we’re not extreme Luddite/Dennis the Menace hybrids. We can, however, make changes to the immediate environment. Our homes and our habits can change. So, if there’s an action item to be derived from this post, I guess it’s this: turn off the lights, go outside, preferably somewhere remote, look up, and take it all in. Take your kids with you. Foster the innate human obsession with the stars. Watch young eyes light up and mind-expanding thoughts of eternity and possibility germinate in growing brains. Then, set them loose and see where they go and what they do. I bet it’ll be pretty good.

Who else loves – nay, needs – the stars? Who else imagines how great things would be if we could actually step outside our living quarters, look up, and see the galaxies laid out before us in excruciating detail? Who else wishes that stargazing was no longer the strict province of campers and hunters and country-living? I realize that progress is inevitable and civilization butts heads with nature, but there’s got to be a better way.

Right?

Chime in the comment section. Let everyone hear about your love for the stars. And if your relationship with the cosmos has grown stale (or you’re a stargazing virgin), then get out and see them (so you know what we’re all blabbering about)!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Ah Mark, you have the ability to read my mind. Just signed a lease for a home about thirty minutes away from my work because I was tired of not seeing the stars. City life (and that train that goes by my house at five am with the horn blaring) is not for me.

    Maureen wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • A year and-a-half ago I moved to a more rural area of Marin County, CA and am astounded and awed by the night sky~ The Milky Way is visible on a clear night and I love watching the stars appear. I love how dark it is and quiet too. Feeling very lucky. :-) Great post!

      Tenaya wrote on January 24th, 2012
      • Jealous! I live in a very light-polluted city while I attend school… it will be a while til’ I can escape it

        Becca wrote on January 24th, 2012
        • I too am in the process of buying a house outside of the city so that I can see the stars. I have spent the last year in a Condo downtown with street lamps outside my window and neighbors yelling all manner of things at all times in the night. It’s not worth the money I save.

          Michael wrote on January 24th, 2012
        • Think outside the box Becky. Surely there’s somewhere away from the light(further out)you could live. I left the city lights for a tiny community without street lights outside the city where I attended college. What a relief. I grew up in a very small town that was, in my view, destroyed when street lights went in. I was lucky and lived right on the very edge and corner so I regularly chunked a rock into the street light in front of our house. Since the whole family and neighbors like to sit outside at night, I think everyone was secretly grateful that my friends and I kept this light off. The local company man whose job it was to fix this light finally quit fixing it. Every once in a great while he’d put in a new light and I’d go out and pick up a good chunking rock and knock it out. I would rather have not destroyed it but there’s no reasoning with “company policy”. After living in a dorm for 2 semesters, I was done, no mas. Then I lived in an apartment and that was little better. I lived in various houses but always the light. I finally just drove around out in the country and found an old mobile home that was virtually worthless a farmer let me rent for very little. Life was good again even if it was so cold I had to move out(really bad winter). Then I found another place(actually, some friend did)so immediately after getting married my wife and I were once again back where I belonged, in a cotton field with no lights that as a city girl she immediately loved because of no lights, traffic, etc. I got a job in a small town and lived in the country for a while but the landlord couldn’t stand the thought of my wife living next to a house that was all men(friends of ours)so he took our house away(Bible thumping blues) and we moved to the edge of the nearest town we stayed a few months. Then we moved to another town when I started trucking but it was the same small town I regularly broke lights in so we moved to a town that no longer existed and neither did the lights. Out next move was to another abandoned town with one house, ours, and no light. After that it was the middle of a ranch in an old house that was great and once again, no lights. We finally moved to a farm I inherited and after 27 years we still have no outside lights and love it. When city folk visit us their kids ask why they don’t have the Milky Way where they live. In our younger days friends would come to visit just to lie around outside at night and listen to music(before the big tv craze with satellite dishes was in full bloom although we could have had one if we’d wanted to waste the money but that was back when there was only HBO and local networks plus a few big city cable shows being broadcast). We’re still there and still have no lights although we have powerful lights on the barn and other places we can turn on if we have to. Now the only light that disturbs my sleep is the full moon and I can cut it off if I want with a room darkening shade but I always have that option of not blocking it. I have a new cell phone and the charger has a light, a very bright green light, and I hate it so I’m going to move it to another room and take back my natural light room back from the cell phone crowd. Good luck. Living out by yourself is a great way to live and if you’re scared, just get a shotgun and learn to use it. I have never had any problem living in the country, only in town.

          Brent wrote on January 27th, 2012
    • Yeah, isn’t it interesting how Mark posts on seemingly ‘random’ topics that happen to be timely for other people here (me, included) in personal ways. Well, it really is true that we are all connected, IMO.

      rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • Please Everybody! Don’t just accept the loss of the stars. Become activists for better lighting in your community. Insist on ordinances that require well-designed lights. If you are lucky enough to live in a dark sky area, help get legislation passed to protect what you have. See the International Dark Sky Association – http://www.darksky.org – to learn how.

      Dolina wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • A nice way to end day 16 of going primal.
      Just read the Daily after coming in from the tub.
      The beautiful “starscapes” of Southwestern Colorado obscured by winter clouds suspended above my head; snow teasing, but holding back.

      Back inside now to candles, low light and a fire.
      Fully present in the moment.
      A timely post, as many are.

      rab wrote on January 24th, 2012
  2. Man, seeing the stars from the middle of the ocean, or the middle of the mountains/nowhere is something special. It’s a shame that we can’t see that all the time.

    shazkar wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • Well said. I grew up in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire and the first thing I notice when I get back is the smell of fresh air. You actually NOTICE how good the air smells. And while they’re usually smothered out and ignored in the city, you can’t help but be affected by the incredible depth and sheer vastness the stars. We should all ditch the city more often.

      Abel James wrote on January 24th, 2012
      • One of the nicest memories I have of my dad is standing out in the barnyard one night at our farm in Central Illinois nearly 50 years ago and the Milky Way blazed above us. He explained just how far that was from us and gave me some idea of just how awesomely big it was and WE were part of it. Farmers have a closer relationship to the night. He would stand in the field sometimes and just listen to the corn leaves rustle and spring always thrilled him when bits of green shot out of the ground. I miss him and the blazing Milky Way.

        Janet wrote on January 24th, 2012
        • A beautiful memory of your dad~ Brought a tear to my eye~

          Tenaya wrote on January 24th, 2012
        • Janet, what a beautiful remembrance!

          Joy Beer wrote on January 24th, 2012
        • That’s awesome. Beautiful. Something I want. Need?

          Primal Toad wrote on January 24th, 2012
        • I agree, that is beautiful!

          One of my own special star gazing memories also involves my father – nearly 60 years ago when the city skies were not so light polluted. My very first memory is of being held in my father’s arms while he showed me the night sky. While he did talk to me, I don’t know that I understood all of his words – or more to the point that I even needed to.

          rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
        • Janet, that was a wonderful story. My father took me out on our roof in 1959 and we looked at the constellations with a book and a flashlight. It was winter and we lived away from town so we could see everything.

          Thank you for reminding me of it!

          I miss him like you miss your dad………..

          David wrote on January 30th, 2012
    • City people (like me) need to see the stars, if for no other reason than as a reminder that we are not really that important.

      I was able to see the stars in all their glory from an isolated beach in Central America recently, complete with shooting stars. I felt wonderfully small.

      Duncan wrote on January 24th, 2012
  3. Oh, this post resonated with me, and made me a bit sad, mostly because I can barely remember the last time I saw more than the brightest stars in the sky, and I suspect that some of those are satellites. Most definitely, there has got to be a better way.

    M. M. wrote on January 24th, 2012
  4. I love gazing up at the night sky. Makes you really wonder what else is out there. Are there more planets like Earth? If so, are they inhabited by humans, or human-like creatures, or something completely different? Do they suffer the ramifications of light pollution too?

    I was extremely grateful when we moved out of the big city, and into a small town. Now every night when I take my dog outside, I can see the beautiful stars, proving there’s no cloud cover! I really do wish there were less light pollution from the city lights!

    Steffy wrote on January 24th, 2012
  5. Great post, Mark. My wife and I should begin construction of our new “out in the country” home this fall. I can’t wait to get away from the 4 lane highway in my front yard so we can slow down our lives, get a dog (finally), and a telescope so my sons and I can explore this beautiful universe.

    justyouraveragecavemen wrote on January 24th, 2012
  6. For a while now I’ve had this grand fantasy that somehow my city would be able to get everyone to shut off all the lights at the same time, and in that moment, it would switch on the lights in the sky. How grand and epic that would be.

    Josh wrote on January 24th, 2012
  7. I grew up in the country so I spent alot of time staring at the stars. I still try to get out in August to see the Perseid meteor showers, flat on my back in the middle of a grassy field somewhere. It usually occurs close to my birthday, so it’s the perfect birthday treat!

    I know, too, that city light definitely affects my sleep. I wish I could use blackout curtains at night, but then the lack of access to the sunrise totally screws up my ability to get out of bed. I wake up groggy and utterly disoriented. Maybe a light on a timer? Anybody got any Primal DIY hacks for that?

    Abby J. (formerly C.) wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • Get a sunrise simulator (aka dawn simulator) alarm clock. And not a super cheap one…They essentially simulate sunrise by gradually turning a light on over about 30 minutes. It does not need to be more than about 60W to give you the desired effect. You will wake up easily and more naturally.

      Kelly wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • There are lamps that gradually turn light on in the am, plus timers that will do the same thing. There is even an alarm clock that has that kind of wake up light in it. I bought a little timer thingy that plugs into a regular light and then into an outlet and the regular lightbulb gradually goes on in AM. You set it for a certain time back from when you want to get up. I rarely need an alarm. I will try and get back with the brand, as I am not at home.

      Janet wrote on January 24th, 2012
  8. I grew up in the rural Midwest. At night I could go out and see a billion stars shining down on me. Sometimes I would lay down in the grass and feel the coolness of the grass and the warmth of the wind as I stared up at the stars. Sometimes I could swear I was so in tune with the earth that I could feel its rotation. Now that I live in the city, I don’t see them anymore. On a good night I might be able to pick out five or six stars. It’s not the same. Oh, and working a night shift about 7 years ago totally screwed me over. I would do ok until about 3 or 4am then I would be nodding off. To ward off some of the tiredness, I would find myself eating something horribly unhealthy. I have a hard time sleeping during the day because of the brightness in the room and noise outside, so I was always tired. I stopped working out because I didn’t have the energy. I didn’t last very long at that job, only about 7 months, but in that time I had piled on about 10 pounds.

    Penady wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • I spent several of my childhood years in the Midwest and share your experiences. Also, I miss the small flying, twinkling, “stars” – the fireflies – that were so abundant then but not so much these days.

      rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
      • So true about the lightening bugs. I still live in a rural area and I watch for the first night there are light’nin bugs in the summer. Same with the peeper frogs where I walk in the spring. Luckily, I can get out into the country easily, but the Chicago/Milwaukee lights cause some light pollution.

        Janet wrote on January 24th, 2012
        • You know, even being old enough to remember times when we had abundant lightening bugs, peeper frogs, butterflies, and so on – their absence has still somehow almost normalized for me. THAT makes me almost as sad as their decline.

          I’m re-landscaping my home in the city – SE Michigan – and even though the city has had recent butterfly releases and I have planted many butterfly attracting plants, I have yet to see more than a very few and only of one species.

          rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
  9. I made a New Year resolution to try to ignore the differences from me that I see in others and focus on how much we are alike. I was thinking about that the other night and noticed the full moon. I realized that every person who has ever lived on this planet has looked at that same moon for millions of years, including grandfather Grok. I felt connected as a thought from the Christian Scriptures, even though I am not religious, popped into my mind to love my neighbors as I do myself. At that moment I thought I can do that. Then my cell phone rang and the moment was broken. But I do remember the thought and the feeling. Maybe I can get them again the next full moon.

    Michael McAlister wrote on January 24th, 2012
  10. great topic Mark! There’s truly nothing like stargazing in pitch blackness… there’s so much more up there than people realize

    Burn wrote on January 24th, 2012
  11. When I was ten I received a telescope for Christmas. I remember seeing four of Jupitor’s moons with my trusty telescope from the front yard of my childhood home in suburban Nebraska. Even then, the lights of Omaha were encroaching on my stargazing. I also studied Greek and Roman mythology, so I would know the stories behind the constellations my Dad would point out.

    Now I live ouside of San Francisco, and it’s rare that there’s a break in the fog to see the night sky. When such an even occurs, I can barely make out Orion’s belt with all of the surrounding lights. I relish any time we’re away from “civilization” and I can actually make out the Milky Way, something I struggle with even in Omaha.

    There’s a lot to be said for how the cosmos inspire us. I always feel that sense of awe and inspiration when I can see a great celestial night sky. I feel like I can do anything, like I’m destined for greatness, or something like that.

    Emily wrote on January 24th, 2012
  12. As a geologist, I get waaay out there… to places where there is no light (or sound) pollution… it is freeing… those are the places that force you stop and take it in.

    Funny, this other post came across my reader today… timely.

    http://thisisindexed.com/2012/01/they-all-fall-fast-and-brilliantly/

    Meredith wrote on January 24th, 2012
  13. “Kids don’t seem to dream about becoming astronauts” I would wager that in a few years kids won’t even know what an astronaut is. It’s really sad. Great post. There is NOTHING quite like star-gazing in the country.

    Justin wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • I agree with both of you, totally. A respect for grandiosity and an urge to explore and, then, to impose one’s intelligence upon it (in a constructive rather than destructive way) is the root of man’s greatness and civilization as a whole. The men who look beyond the current and see what can be studied, understood, and utilized are the reason we’re not all freezing, starving, or disease-ridden right now, in my opinion.

      But while boys no longer dream of being Neal Armstrong or Thomas Edison, I recently read that now American boys ages 14 to 18 have as their dream occupation….sniper. Not to build, explore, or create, but to put bullets in the heads of unsuspecting and defenseless peasants. (The book, ‘Microtrends’, was written by a neocon and so of course it encouraged this evil and said it will save us from all the super-powered Arabs.)

      Thank you for your wonder-inducing column, Mark!

      DavidBrennan wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • I work at a library, and one summer night we had a group of star-gazers bring their telescopes and one really big one you had to climb a ladder to gaze into. It was awesome, and some kids couldn’t get enough of climbing that ladder and seeing Jupiter and galaxies and Mars. It was a magical evening and I had a real sense of community also.

      Janet wrote on January 24th, 2012
  14. I had the good fortune to live in Tucson, AZ, where there are actual light pollution ordinances due to the proximity of the Kitts Peak National Observatory. The only place I have seen a night sky that comes close to the beautiful starlit displays of Tucson would be out on a boat doing deep sea fishing.
    I had toured Kitts Peak a couple of times (its an obligatory stop for any friends who came to visit) and they have a great poster in the visitor’s center that contrasts how light pollution has increased over the last 50 or so years. Where you could barely see any lights in the surrounding areas back then, now you have light pollution from Phoenix (some 90 miles distant) interfering with the observations and research going on there. I do miss my Arizona night skies…

    Eric wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • When did you live there? Because while it’s still better than Phoenix, Tucson’s got plenty of light pollution now. It’s grown a lot in the past couple of decades. If you want a city with a good night sky in AZ now, you need to go to Flagstaff, where the lighting ordinances are much stricter. Of just go out in the desert somewhere.

      I moved to Phoenix this summer (because it was the only place I could find a job, not entirely by choice), and the light pollution here is HORRIBLE. Just awful. It’s never dark.

      Uncephalized wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • The last time I was in Tucson was 1969. I just happen to remember the exact year because it was the same year as Woodstock and I was traveling in the Southwest that same summer.

      One of my favorite night sky experiences happened just outside of Tucson while I was staying at a private compound. I was tripping on acid (LSD) and spending some quiet time alone watching the night sky when I was joined by the resident Borzoi (Russian wolfhound). We silently communed together in what had to be a primal connection under the stars.

      Also in the summer of ’69, I was camping in the Colorado Rockies during the first lunar landing. At night I’d squint my eyes at the moon fantasizing about seeing those “first footstep(s)”.

      I never aspired to be an astronaut myself, but I was delighted later in life to have opportunities to collaborate with NASA scientists in the realm of both basic and applied research. I also did basic research that provided a basis for subsequent applied research that benefitted (among others) the NASA space program. These memories are also some of my most cherished, cosmos inspired – even if the lab can be so very remote from the night sky.

      rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
  15. Great post. Here’s a neat website to help you find a nice patch of dark sky near you…http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/

    Dave wrote on January 24th, 2012
  16. Got to say on this I disagree with you Mark. I just had the discussion this morning about how I cannot wait for the opportunity to move to a city big enough that it is always light. After having been far North (northern Finland) in both summer with 24 hour daylight and winter with the opposite, I am ready to live someplace that it will never be dark again. Seeing stars just reminds me of how little there is to do here.

    R.S. wrote on January 24th, 2012
  17. One night I saw a very bright star in the sky. The next day it was still there. I was at a friend’s in the countryside, and suggested we set up his telescope to get a better look. Turns out it was Jupiter… and with the telescope, we could clearly see its moons. Standing in a friend’s garden, I could see Jupiter. Ju-pi-effing-ter! Blew my mind.

    Scott wrote on January 24th, 2012
  18. I’m torn on this one, because while I do love to see the stars, I also wish there were better lighting on the streets I walk the mile home (alone) at night.

    ajt wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • You can have both. The problem with the light pollution is the light sources are shining *out* and *up*. If the lights could be focused mostly down, light pollution would not be such a problem. They do make “dark sky friendly” lights.

      toaster for sale wrote on January 24th, 2012
      • Well now maybe this is what Mark is saying about a “better way”.

        rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
      • +1. This is what we need more of, then.

        ajt wrote on January 24th, 2012
  19. It’s also really good exercise and relaxation for your eyes for us to use them (without strain) in the dark. Our eyes are designed to do this – not to the level that nocturnal animals can, but more than we are utilizing them. Ambient city light and indoor lights make this level of darkess hard to achieve.

    Reid wrote on January 24th, 2012
  20. Apparently light pollution can also interrupt women’s ovulation: http://www.cheeseslave.com/lunaception-how-the-moon-can-balance-your-hormones-and-make-you-fertile/

    hm wrote on January 24th, 2012
  21. That was the one bit of the aftermath of Hurrican Irene that I enjoyed. My town was only without power for at most one night (some areas only a few hours, we have a town utility company), and that Sunday night the sky was just amazing

    Nancy wrote on January 24th, 2012
  22. Remember the blackout in Central Canada and the US about a decade ago? We actually drove up into the country to experience the blackness in all its glory. Figures we happened upon one patch where the power still flowed and the light from that small town was enough to put a damper on our experience.
    I still have fond memories of sitting with friends in Northern Ontario for hours watching shooting stars and making wishes. Best of all? We were all in our twenties and thirties. :-)

    Happycyclegirl wrote on January 24th, 2012
  23. I’ve been in what I thought to be Middle-of-Nowhere, USA and seen countless stars. However, I didn’t realize how far the effects of light pollution stretched until I was in Middle-of-Nowhere, Iraq. My military brethren can attest that there are way more stars to be seen from deserts in the Middle East.

    Primal Texas wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • I believe you!

      rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • You need to try the middle of the bushveld in Rural Africa to realise just how prolific the stars are.

      Nothing beats the Milky Way on a moonless night in Africa

      Mitch wrote on January 25th, 2012
      • Every winter when I was a child, our family would go to the Drakensberg.

        When I went back after five years away I was totally astonished, and relished in just lying outside in the freezing cold, looking up at the stars. And only a flashlight to get me back to my hut.

        Peter Stewart wrote on January 31st, 2012
  24. When we drive somewhere we are often in areas without any cities and if the sky is clear (not often in Washington) then we always stop and gaze up with our kids. Now my daughter, a 13 year old, asks if we will be able to see the stars whenever we take a trip somewhere. The night sky we saw once so impressed her that she wants to see it again, but it is SO hard to find….

    EZ wrote on January 24th, 2012
  25. Have You Seen The Stars Tonight?
    Would you like to go up on ‘A’ Deck and look at them with me?
    Have You Seen The Stars Tonight?
    Would you like to go up for a stroll and keep me company?

    PAUL KANTNER

    dasbutch wrote on January 24th, 2012
  26. Ah, yes, when hurricane Fran hit NC some years ago, I totally enjoyed the experience. Not only could you see the stars fabously for days (we had no power in most parts of NC that were hit hard for 3 to 10 days), but the quietness was beautiful. No ambient background noise, at least at night. Chainsaws could be heard during the day. But, with so many trees and powerlines down across the roads, traffic was halted for days. The darkess and quietness at night was truly wonderful.

    Laura wrote on January 24th, 2012
  27. I did a stargazing tour in Sedona over Christmas – husband and I drove out via Vegas with our dog. It was wonderful. We met the guide in an unlit empty parking lot on the outskirts of town. Couldn’t see a dang thing when we got out of the car, but within minutes our eyes did what they naturally do and we saw – everything! The guide pointed out the constellations with a laser pointer and had a telescope set up to view distant galaxies. It was magical and fun. Felt like a kid again.

    Living in coastal L. A. County, it takes us hours to get out of the mega metro area into the sticks. We aim to change that soon.

    HillsideGina wrote on January 24th, 2012
  28. Reminds me of the summer of 2003 when the whole eastern seaboard blacked out in August. I was at a relatives house in Toronto. The neighborhood children spilled into the street after dark and were mesmerized by the night sky, some of them were in their teens and had never seen anything like it. I was amazed, as I live in Northwestern Ontario, other than Thunder Bay, there are no lights for 100′s of miles. I’ve known the night sky my whole life!

    Looking forward to a good dose of Northern Lights over the next year as the solar maximum approaches, there’s been a few good displays already since last fall.

    Hardy wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • Yes, we’ve even had some display here in SE Michigan, even with the light pollution.

      rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
  29. I’ve been reading this for a few months now, never chimed in, and actually haven’t been able to get rid of a lot of it. It’s impossible to do so while in the Navy. But I will say this, I love being out to sea on a ship, everything is dark, and you can see amazing things out there. It’s so lovely.

    Giff wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • Thank you for your service, Giff. Enjoy those night skies!

      Joy Beer wrote on January 24th, 2012
  30. Who here can remember what they learned in school? I don’t recall stars ever being addressed and I think the only earth science class I had that I remember was in 5th grade. Certainly I had no real astronomy exposure (I get super jealous everytime I read Harry Potter and they get to go out at midnight to chart constellations). What did other people experience as far as astronomy education in school? BTW, I’m 20 so my highschool education was relatively recent.

    Emily Mekeel wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • In my experience (age 59), the education in the US (you don’t say where you live) has declined in several areas since I was in primary/secondary school. One of the many areas that is now less covered is astronomy, and related mythology. Even so, I envy a LOT about Harry’s Hogwarts experience!

      rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
  31. Sorry, just read what I wrote before, I meant, “never been able to get STARTED on it.” My mind was elsewhere for a second.

    Giff wrote on January 24th, 2012
  32. There is nothing better than seeing a sky packed with stars. I love to watch the night sky, shooting stars, the milky way all of it. We are lucky in that we can do that from our yard, and we go go camping in Utah’s back country, mind blowing stars.

    Mary Hone wrote on January 24th, 2012
  33. We are so lucky to live in the countryside, with little light pollution. Going outside on a clear night is bliss – being able to see all the stars and the velvety skies, and watch the waxing and waning of the moon in great clarity. My children often take the dogs for an extra walk at night just so they can enjoy the nighttime and the night skies … last night I even caught a glimpse of the aurora borealis when putting the dogs out before bed!

    oliviascotland wrote on January 24th, 2012
  34. It overtakes me.

    and I’m there
    looking up at the sky
    and I’m scared
    thinking ’bout the way that I,
    I don’t understand
    anything at all
    and how it overtakes me
    and I’m just so small

    do I stand a chance?

    alex wrote on January 24th, 2012
  35. Here, in New Zealand, we have a night sky reserve. In the small town with in this reserve all outside lights must have a cover over the light bulb to make it shine down. When you get out of this small town there are no lights for miles. The night sky is fantastic.

    Helene wrote on January 24th, 2012
  36. While all these other sentiments are valid, I can’t believe no one has mentioned the probable havoc light pollution causes with some animals, birds, and insects.

    John wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • And plants. Many plants are photo sensitive, especially to day length. Green houses control day length and light intensity to control blooming cycles for several commercially popular plants. Even home gardens can be affected by light pollution.

      I once had a garden in a rural area where the only light pollution was a security light that the former residents had installed near where I located my small orchard and canning garden. It had to go.

      rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
  37. One thing the people of North Korea must be enjoying is the night sky. At night, very few lights are visible from outer space in the entire country.

    I wonder if the night sky is inspiring any of them?

    Sharon wrote on January 24th, 2012
  38. Once I slept outside on the ground in far west texas, in the Big Bend. I think it was fall of 2005. I was having menopausal night sweats, and I kept waking up and throwing off the sleeping bag top cover. I woke up about every hour or two. Whenever this happened, I could see that the stars had moved: they were wheeling in the sky, all night long. It was so mysterious and wonderful.

    shannon wrote on January 24th, 2012
  39. I lived in Breckenridge Colorado for three years, which is at 10,000 feet, and the first thing I remember is looking up at the night sky – it was SO bright – like nothing I have ever seen. I felt like I could reach up and touch the stars they looked so close….. Just awesome.

    Wendy wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • Most mountain cities in the Rockies have spectacular night skies

      madmav wrote on January 24th, 2012
      • Yes, but you should see Denver from many miles away camping under the open night skies. Its a bowl of light with a dome of light.

        rrustad wrote on January 24th, 2012
    • Crested Butte…nothing more awesome than a cold winter night sky in the mountains. Gotta get there soon.

      Molly wrote on January 24th, 2012
  40. Light pollution form orbit:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74mhQyuyELQ

    madmav wrote on January 24th, 2012

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