Tonight, take a look into the sky. Your view will be very different than that of someone a century ago. You will likely see a lot more light, and a lot fewer stars, than our ancestors would have seen.
An unfortunate side effect of our modern industrial society is light pollution. Unlike the contamination of our air or water, light pollution is one type of contamination people may not think about or take very seriously. But over-illumination causes a variety of issues, such as an annoying nighttime glow, unnecessary energy usage, problems for astronomers, and even human health problems like reduced visual acuity and increased fatigue. Like our air and water, our dark night sky is a natural resource that we must work together to preserve.
Today marks the beginning of National Dark-Sky Week (April 20-26, 2009). This annual event encourages Americans to audit their outdoor light fixtures and reduce their contribution to this problem. To help, you can turn off any unnecessary lights and make sure the rest are aimed toward the ground and are only as bright as necessary. Maybe even consider purchasing a directional shade to prevent your fixtures from spilling light upward.
One emerging technology that may help reduce light pollution is LED lighting. Although LED bulbs last longer and use less energy than incandescent or even CFL bulbs, their highly-directional light is typically seen as a drawback. In the case of outdoor lighting, directionality could be a benefit, as less light leaks up to the sky.
Although it may seem minor in comparison to other pressing issues, it’s easy to make a small step toward reducing light pollution and improving public quality of life. This National Dark-Sky Week, take a moment to think about the simple things you can do to reduce your impact.
Photo courtesy of NASA.