The case for darkness
April 8, 2014
The dazzling diamonds of the heavens have fascinated humanity for thousands of years as they light up the night. Unfortunately, the dark skies that make them shine are under threat as bright lights from cities permeate the atmosphere.
Paul Ricketts, of the University of Utah Department of Physics and Astronomy, spoke at Swaner EcoCenter Thursday, April 3, to inform Parkites about the threat of light pollution and explain how they can combat it.
According to Ricketts, stars are not only beautiful, their existence forces us to think and to question.
"There are a lot of people in cities that have never even seen the Milky Way Galaxy. They don’t know what the Milky Way Galaxy is," stated Ricketts. "(Light pollution) makes our society a little bit less educated about where we are in the universe. You can’t look up into the sky and have that wonder. It hinders your imagination and your ability to think about what else is out there."
More than just an aesthetic and scientific problem, light pollution is a health threat that disrupts humans’ circadian rhythms (internal sleep clock), decreasing the production of melatonin and with it our ability to achieve a deep sleep. It has been linked to depression, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. An excess of light can actually decrease driving safety at night through blinding glare, Ricketts warned.
The ill effects of light pollution are not limited to people. An abundance of artificial light can prove detrimental to animal species that rely on the stars to guide migratory paths. Birds and insects are particularly at risk of confusion and death as they mistake artificial lights for the moon, he said.
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"Anytime you drive up [to Park City], when you are on the highway and you look up toward the mountains, you can see tons of lights. If you have a bird preservation here and you don’t properly shield your lights, there will be problems," said Ricketts.
But, he says, there is hope. Small changes in light use can add up as large changes for the better. According to Ricketts, less is more when it comes to lights. He advises the use of red- and amber-colored lights which allow for full visibility without the blinding excess of white lights.
"Our eyes are more sensitive to those wave lengths of light so you can use less energy and have the same kind of ability to see your surroundings as if you had bright white lights," stated Ricketts.
Covering the tops of outdoor lights can reduce excess light that shines into the night and bounces off the ground and generally cutting down on unnecessary light use can save both energy bills and the night sky.
To reduce light pollution:
- Write to your local representatives about switching to street lights that contribute less to light pollution.
- Use red or amber lights instead of white lights.
- Replace all-night porch lights with motion detecting lights.
- Turn off decorative and unused lights at night.
- Use dense fabrics in window curtains to block light from coming in or leaving through your window.