Space

The international movement working to preserve the night's dark skies

Natural Bridges National Park, Utah, 2007: The first International Dark Sky Park
Natural Bridges National Park, Utah, 2007: The first International Dark Sky Park
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Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, 2015, an International Dark Sky Park
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Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, 2015, an International Dark Sky Park
NamibRand Nature Reserve, Nambia, 2012, an International Dark Sky Reserve
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NamibRand Nature Reserve, Nambia, 2012, an International Dark Sky Reserve
The Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan, 2011
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The Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan, 2011
Natural Bridges National Park, Utah, 2007: The first International Dark Sky Park
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Natural Bridges National Park, Utah, 2007: The first International Dark Sky Park
Pic du Midi, France, 2013, an International Dark Sky Reserve
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Pic du Midi, France, 2013, an International Dark Sky Reserve
Hovenweep National Monument, Arizona, 2014
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Hovenweep National Monument, Arizona, 2014
Flagstaff, Arizona, 2001, the first International Dark Sky Community
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Flagstaff, Arizona, 2001, the first International Dark Sky Community

An international movement working to preserve our dark night skies has released an interactive map of sites that everyone can visit. The International Dark-Sky Association's accredited "Dark Sky Places" provide visitors with the sparkling views of the night sky that our recent ancestors enjoyed as a matter of course. The parks are about more than just providing a place for astronomers and the public to look at the stars. They're also there to raise awareness of the problems that light pollution poses for the environment and even to human health.

Artificial light is a relatively new phenomenon from an historical perspective. Before electricity was widely taken up from the turn of the 20th century, the moon, stars, galaxies and constellations played a role in the cultural heritage of almost every society. Creation myths often featured the stars and planets as people tried to rationalize what they were seeing. Religious celebrations often relied on the placement in the sky of stars and constellations, because people believed that the skies were relaying messages from the gods.

The night sky also played a crucial role in navigation. People used the stars, planets and the Moon to find their way through deserts, and sailors used them to navigate the globe. The constellations are part of the reason human beings succeeded in forming agricultural societies, because they enabled farmers to predict when winter, spring and summer were coming.

Most of what we currently know about astronomy and our place in the Universe came about through the observation of the night sky from Earth.

Losing the night sky to artificial light robs us of the ability to continue to grow and evolve our knowledge through observation. And according to the International Dark-sky Association's communications and public affairs director, Cheryl Ann Bishop, the world's increasing levels of light pollution pose a broader threat than was once believed.

"Originally, the main concern for IDA was mitigating light pollution to benefit astronomers and stargazers," Bishop told Gizmag. "Since then, the IDA's mission has greatly expanded to include the protection of wildlife, ecosystems, and human health and safety from the harmful effects of artificial light at night."

Pic du Midi, France, 2013, an International Dark Sky Reserve
Pic du Midi, France, 2013, an International Dark Sky Reserve

According to the IDA, the Earth's cycle of light and dark is encoded into the DNA of every plant and animal. Dark skies play a role in the natural hunting, feeding and sleep cycles of animals and in the life cycle of many plant species. Artificial light robs nocturnal prey species of their time to feed under cover, and draws insects to lights, destroying populations and adversely affecting the food chain. Artificial light also disrupts the migratory patters of bird species and draws vulnerable turtle hatchlings away from the relative safety of the ocean.

Darkness also seems to play a role in human health. Bishop says this issue is of particular concern now that so many cities are replacing their lighting with more energy-efficient LEDs. LED lighting is far brighter than incandescent and fluorescent light, and the light is on the blue end of the color temperature scale, similar to sunlight.

"Numerous studies have linked artificial light at night – particularly blue-rich white light – to human health issues, such as breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, and more," says Bishop. "Although these studies are about exposure while indoors and there is very little research about outdoor exposure, the fact still remains that exposure is exposure."

The good news is that the problems posed by LED light pollution is solvable without losing the benefits. It's a matter of choosing warm light or filtered LED's and avoiding over-lighting.

To this end, the IDA is working with lighting manufacturers to certify and promote lighting options that are "dark sky friendly." IDA also helps educate city planners and government officials about the importance of regulating outdoor lighting.

"The IDA's vision is to help governments and the public regard light pollution the same way as water or air pollution, and then work to resolve it with the same amount of resources as they use to mitigate other types of pollution," says Bishop. "In many ways, we're still at the public awareness phase. We've made a lot of progress, but we need to make much more."

Currently, the IDA is working with lighting manufacturers to purchase bulk eco-friendly lighting for environmentally sensitive areas, with the savings then passed on to the parks that use them.

"We believe that this program has helped educate and move the industry forward," says Bishop. "When the program began, there wasn't much of a market for dark sky friendly lighting, and now there is."

In recent years, the group's flagship project, the International Dark-Sky Places program, seems to be gaining momentum. "In 2014, we designated 13 dark sky places," says Bishop. "This year, we will conclude the year with at least 16."

To be designated as an International Dark Sky Place, parks and reserves need to implement public programming about light pollution and the importance of dark skies.

If you're interested in visiting dark sky friendly place, you can find a map here.

Source: IDA

4 comments
piperTom
So there are "numerous studies" linking night light to prostate cancer, diabetes, et al? None referenced here, though. Sadly, we live in a time where there are numerous studies for scads of junk science. Without any reference, this sounds like more worthless hooey.
BajaTom
No hooey at all! As anyone knows who lives near light polluting street lights, they disrupt sleep and obscure the magnificent night sky. As to artificial light at night causing cancer and disrupting the nocturnal cycle of humans and other animals, the internet savvy reader only need Google "artificial light and cancer" to find the numerous studies referred to by the author. Great article.
richbham
Many communities are considering or installing LED streetlights with higher color temperature, potentially contributing to the light pollution problem. This article from SPIE examines the problem and its potential solution, as well as questions communities should ask: http://spie.org/x115768.xml
Daishi
I live near a dark sky site on the east coast and I was previously looking into ways to solve this problem. The problem is I don't know that much about street lighting. In San Jose when they encountered this problem they moved to sodium vapor lights which are yellowish and fairly efficient. Is there a modern warm color solution I should be looking at for my area? Like, provide me model information and I'll work with my municipality to purchase and test a couple of units and reach out to some others to help fund the remaining purchases. What should we do about super bright halogen parking lot lights? Is there a resource we can use to find better (warmer) lighting solutions for these things? I'm sure many people would be willing to look to these solutions if they were aware of what they are. It's not really just a funding problem. On my porch I use yellow lighting that makes a lot less light pollution and its great because it also doesn't draw in bugs or ruin my night vision.
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