The flight of night from sight

Mar 8

Written by:
3/8/2012 12:40 PM  RssIcon

So, the primary reason for the existence of this site, the videos on it, the live presentations I do, is light pollution reduction.  I know, I know - BORING!  Because... well, alright, it IS boring.  But what isn't boring is the night sky.  Well, the truly dark night sky, that is.  Growing up in southeastern New England, I always thought I grew up under fairly dark skies.  I mean, I could see lots of stars (so I thought).  The Big Dipper was there.  Other constellations which I never bothered to learn until college were there too.

Fast forward - oh, 15 years or so - to 1996.  I was working for a small insurance company in sales.  I had purchased two "real" telescopes, and even managed to swing some cash towards a semi-decent SLR camera (film - remember that stuff?).  As the bright new rising star in the sales office, I was fortunate to be able to take a reward/incentive trip out to Breckenridge Colorado.  My scopes were too large to bring along, but the camera wasn't.  Ecstatic at this "dark sky" opportunity, knowing that the town sat at around 9,000 feet above sea level in one of the darker areas of the American Mountain states, I even purchased some very fast 1600 ISO film, since I want to capture as much as possible without a barn-door tracker or EQ mount.

It was only August, so the weather was warm, and while everyone else was off doing some partying, I sneaked off, camera and tripod in tow, to the ski slopes where there were no lights.  As I waited for my eyes to adjust to the darker conditions, my heart sank.  Though I could see some brighter stars, a thin haze was apparent to my adjusting vision.  I stayed put though, knowing that hazes can clear and this was a rare opportunity.

And then it dawned on me - literally.  The "haze" above me was not haze at all - was the freaking Milky Way!  My jaw dropped.  I stood there, stunned.  Gazing towards the west, I looked at the silhouetted mountain - inky black on the horizon, and the bright cross-section of our galaxy terminating along the jagged edge.  Grabbing the camera, I started taking various shots.  This was a moment not only to not forget, but it was one to capture and share with everyone I knew!

Well, that was not to happen.  Despite my instructions, the film processor screwed up the film.  Either that or it was bad film, as even the lone "starter" indoor shot I took didn't come out right, much less a single night sky shot.  But that's not the point.  The point is, light pollution blocks that view from 90% of the developed world now.  We've lost that connection to the larger universe, except in the stunning Hubble images we see on a computer.  Unfortunately, that's not the same as witnessing it for oneself, stating into the vastness of our galaxy, knowing that that "haze" is really the product of millions - no, billions - of stars across thousands of light years of space.  

That is awe-inspiring.

And 90% of us are missing it.

Why?

Because we light up EVERYTHING at night now, including the air above our heads.  We do this in the name of safety and security.  We "need" this light to be safe, we rationalize.  Except that I can't find any statistics showing that there is massive crime wave occurring from silent helicopters above our heads where commandos or terrorists rappel down ropes and rob us, vandalize our possessions, or are stealing secrets.  Cause the thing is, crime happens on the ground, but we're lighting up the sky.  I'm not against light on the ground, but when we waste light in the sky - literally, to light up the undersides of birds and planes, and nothing else - what security are we achieving?  How does that make us safer?

Well, it doesn't, obviously.  And in an era of exploding government budgets and dwindling revenues, why we are sending dollars floating up into the atmosphere in the form of uselessly directed photons is beyond me.

Because the fact is, excessive light at night won't necessarily make you any safer, but it will make you poorer.  And it may even be making you sick, and less able to get a good night's sleep.  But those points are for another post.  In any case, I'm doing this because the night sky matters - yes, to me, but to others.  And even if you don't care a whit about it, you should care that money being spent to light air isn't making you any safer.

Lights down, stars up.  Oh, and you'll save a lot too - $3 billion is wasted every year on wasted light.

Pretty simple.

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.