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Carpe Noctem: Dark Sky Movement

Light pollution makes it hard to gaze at the stars, but does it also affect the environment and public health?

That’s one of the items on the research agenda of the world’s first academic center dedicated to discovery, communication, and application of knowledge about the quality of night skies.

Housed at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture and Planning, the recently formed Consortium for Dark Sky Studies will bring together an interdisciplinary group from more than 25 universities, industries, and community and government partners to examine the impact of light pollution. The consortium already has several activities planned to mark International Dark Sky Week (April 22 – 28, 2017), an event started by a high school student in 2003, including a Salt Lake City walk and citizen science event. The consortium also has teamed up with ALAN (Artificial Light at Night) to co-host its 2018 global research conference.

A century ago, dark night skies were the norm, even in cities. Now, according to scholars who developed the ground-breaking 2016 World Atlas of Artificial Light Night Sky Brightness, 80 percent of the world’s population – and 99 percent of Americans and Europeans – live under sky glow. Only a handful of dark places remain, including remote parts of northern Sweden. The New Wotld Atlas of Night Sky Brightness, from the University of Colorado, includes a 3-D globe version. The researchers also found that replacing streetlamps with LED bulbs will increase light pollution, because the energy-saving bulbs are brighter than conventional ones.

A growing body of evidence has linked the brightening night sky to such measurable effects as:

How bad is light pollution where you live?

This interactive map created from the”World Atlas” data or the NASA Blue Marble Navigator for a bird’s eye view of the lights in your town. Google Earth users can download an overlay also created from the “World Atlas” data.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) has time-lapse videos showing the increase in nighttime illumination  over Hong Kong and other regions.

You Can Help!

The good news is that light pollution, unlike many other forms of pollution, is reversible and each one of us can make a difference! You can start by taking these simple steps:

  • Learn more. Check out the International Dark Sky Association’s Light Pollution blog posts
  • Contribute observations to the Globe at Night citizen-science project
  • Find and visit a dark sky area near you
  • Check out the National Park Service’s Night Skies resources – and maybe book a trip to the Grand Canyon or other dark-sky spot
  • Watch Carnegie Mellon University astronomer Diane Turnshek’s TED Talk describing Pittsburgh’s efforts to cut light pollution
  • Only use lighting when and where it’s needed. Check out the Quality Lighting Teaching Kit from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, which includes videos.
  • If safety is concern, install motion detector lights and timers
  • Properly shield all outdoor lights
  • Keep your blinds drawn to keep light inside
  • Become a citizen scientist and helping to measure light pollution
  • Join NASA’s Night Sky Network of amateur astronomy clubs


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