Let there be dark (Part 1 of 3)

5 08 2010

This article was written for Saltscapes Magazine to celebrate Kejimkujik National Park becoming a Dark Sky Preserve, and the efforts of Quinn Smith and Dave Chapman of the Halifax Centre of the RASC in bringing this to fruition. But Saltscapes never responded to my query or follow-up, so here it is! Photo below is Orion over Keji, taken by John Walker (see astronomynovascotia.ca)

“Wow! The sky is full of stars!” Anyone hearing those words has to look up. Your age doesn’t matter, your birthplace either. Even as an astronomer, I’m still compelled to look. Because that deep black blanket, pin-pricked by a myriad of tiny points of light, is one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.

For city dwellers the dark skies of the countryside can be a revelation. It’s one of the reasons I long to get out of Halifax at the weekend, to head somewhere quieter and a little less bright. If you want to experience a sky full of stars in the city you can either wait for a power cut or take in a show at the Halifax Planetarium. The orange-haze that blankets cities is the combined impact of lighting on our streets, stores, car parks and alleyways. It’s just one aspect of the growing problem of light pollution.

Light pollution may be man-made but its impact is felt by the animal and plant kingdoms. Any biological rhythm based on the natural day-night cycle can be impacted. It’s probably no surprise that our own biology is affected too. There is growing evidence that blood pressure, stress and cancer rates are all impacted by light pollution. But the good news is we can all take steps to do something about it, and it’s a win-win scenario. They key idea is that we shouldn’t waste light, but rather use it responsibly. “Responsible lighting” is also a key component of Dark Sky Preserves, a drive to protect parkland areas from light pollution and ensuring visitors can appreciate the joy of the night sky and plants and animals can have the most natural habitat possible.

But surely extra light can’t be a bad thing? After all, we’re all just that little bit scared of the dark. Each time I flick out the light at home before going to bed I feel a little twinge of uncertainty. It’s not as bad now as it was when I was seven years old, monster’s under the bed aren’t a problem anymore, but monsters outside the front door are the stuff of the 6 o’clock news.

Many studies have been conducted on whether increased lighting reduces crime. The majority of them reach the surprising conclusion that increased lighting has no impact on crime rates, and counter-intuitively, there is even a hint that rates are increased. How can that be possible? Well it seems that criminals like to see where they are going, who they are targeting and what they are stealing. There’s also the fact that it isn’t easy to see past the glare of bright floodlights to identify people. So really, the only things security lights make you safer from is the monsters in your head, oh, and perhaps from tripping over the deck chairs that didn’t get put away.

Tomorrow: Part 2, What can we do about light pollution?

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3 responses

5 08 2010
Let there be dark (Part 2 of 3) « Ecogirl & Cosmoboy's Blog

[…] Let there be dark (Part 2 of 3) 5 08 2010 –Continuation from Part 1– […]

8 08 2010
Roger G.S. Bidwell

Hi: Glad to see your articles on Scotobiology. I invented the term for the science of the biology of organisms that absolutely require darkness (or periodic darkness) for the proper function of their metabolism and developmental programs. The term caught on and has now become quite widespread. My colleagues and I recognized the importance of light pollution which may seriously mess up the development and function of processes that require nightly darkness. We are very pleased to see your articles. Keep it up! Regards, Roger B.

8 08 2010
ecogirlcosmoboy

Thanks Roger! My wife and I were wondering if anyone was doing “before and after” studies on DSPs to see what impact the designation has.

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