Friday, 17 February 2012

Light pollution

When I go outside at night and look up at the sky I have a pretty good view of some familiar constellations: the Big Dipper, Orion, Cassiopeia. I live in small town British Columbia. The nearest big city is a five hour drive away. But still, light pollution here is bad enough to obscure the dimmer riot of stars and the fuzz of the Milky Way that I remember seeing as a kid in southern Ontario.
About half an hour from here, hidden in the desert-dry rolling hills, is the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory. Last August, I went there to watch the Perseid Meteor showers. The plan was that I'd meet my son and two other friends there. But it was so dark that I lurched among the hushed bodies wrapped in blankets on the grass, then gave up and rolled into my sleeping bag on my back and looked up. Every time a meteor flashed across the sky, a gasp of awe rose up from the crowd and then the whispers, "Did you see it?" It was a moonless night. I can't remember when I've seen so many stars. Even my 14 year-old son and his friends were buzzing with excitement when I found them.

The sad thing is that there are places in the world where it's no longer possible to see the stars. The problem is worse in cities, obviously, but an article in the Telegraph in 2010 says that according to astronomers, "eight out of ten people in the English countryside cannot see the stars at night because of light pollution." It's troubling to think that there are children who could grow up never experiencing the overwhelming humility that comes from gazing at a starry sky.

There are actually now "dark sky reserves," places named for having exceptional night-time darkness. These are some of them:

Canadian Dark Sky Preserves and Reserves

  • Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve, Ontario
  • Point Pelee National Park and Dark Sky Preserve, Ontario
  • Cypress Hills Dark Sky Preserve, Alberta/Saskatchewan
  • Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, Alberta
  • Fraser Valley Dark Sky Preserve, British Columbia
It's not only the stars that suffer from light pollution. Brenda "Birdschmidt" probably knows about the organization called Fatal Light Awareness (FLAP http://www.flap.org/index.php) that's trying to get the lights turned out in city buildings to protect migrating birds. Below is a photo of some of the birds killed from hitting lit windows.



2 comments:

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  2. Great post. Yes, light pollution interests me.

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