Lighten down

Obama gave his State of the Union speech tonight (as I type this). I thought it was somewhat enlightening. As I’m sure much more can be found across the intertubes to shed more light on his speech, I thought I’d talk instead about too much light.

From Der Spiegel, we have a well written article on a subject near and dear to my heart. Light pollution. I knew light pollution was bad in the States (I saw maybe 10 stars during my run tonight. Granted, I live in street lit suburban area.), but I did not know it had gotten so bad in Germany. A scroll down the Wiki (looking for somebody to clean that up, by the way) illustrates how bad it really is there.

Of course, it is also pretty bad here in the States, at least anywhere where there is a significant population density. One of the treasures lost is the view of the stars. No big deal one might say. Consider that the universe holds at least hundreds of billions of galaxies. Galaxies vary in size, but totaling everything up, it seems that there may be 70 thousand million million million stars. How many can we see with the naked eye varies, but one resource puts it at 1500 or so, with low light pollution (with a couple of galaxies thrown in for good measure. I’m thinking Andromeda, but they referred to M101), This tiny infinitesimal fraction of the whole cosmos visible to the us with our eyes alone makes this view very precious. Even then, given distances to the stars, what they are, and our implied relationship to the cosmos inspires a a life of wonder and a driving curiosity to learn more. One might be given to think that our seeming determination to wipe out even this view is a measure of arrogance.

It is not just the resource of starry nights that is at risk. From Der Spiegel:

For eons, all life on earth has been shaped by the constant cycle of day and night. But in many places, night has been lost. This loss, says IGB director Klement Tockner, “entails a dramatic reduction in biodiversity.” According to Tockner, the adverse effects are especially noticeable in bodies of water, where “the light shining in promotes algae growth and changes the food web throughout an entire lake.”


Billions of insects die on streetlights each year or in the webs of the spiders that live on these lights in unnaturally large quantities. Many birds flying at night become confused by the light smog and collide with brightly lit high-rise buildings. Light-sensitive frogs stop their mating activity, thereby producing fewer or no offspring. Freshly hatched sea turtles crawl toward the light on streets instead of into the ocean. Salamanders remain hidden longer than usual, because of insufficient darkness, which deprives them of the time they need to search for food.

There are also adverse effects to us humans as well.

Now that I’m sure I’ve convinced you there is a problem, be sure to check out The International Dark-Sky Association. The web site has excellent discussions on reducing light pollution including using lighting fixtures that minimize glare and so on.


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