Along with air and water pollution, and the constant pumping of carbon dioxide, humans managed to add light pollution to their portfolio of environmental disaster.
If you live in a city, it’s safe to assume that you can no longer see a dark sky at night. This phenomenon is a significant concern and it is primarily caused by light pollution, which occurs when excessive or misdirected artificial light brightens the night sky, making it difficult to see stars and celestial objects.
Aparna Venkatesan from the University of San Francisco and John C. Barentine from Dark Sky Consulting have invented a new term to describe the pain associated with this loss, calling it “noctalgia”, meaning “sky grief”.
We are witnessing loss of heritage, place-based language, identity, storytelling, millennia-old sky traditions and our ability to conduct traditional practices grounded in the ecological integrity of what we call home.Aparna Venkatesan and John C. Barentine
“We offer here the term noctalgia to express ‘sky grief’ for the accelerating loss of the home environment of our shared skies, a disappearance felt globally and deserving its own field of study of ‘nyctology’,” the authors wrote in an e-letter sent to the journal Science. “This represents far more than mere loss of environment: we are witnessing loss of heritage, place-based language, identity, storytelling, millennia-old sky traditions and our ability to conduct traditional practices grounded in the ecological integrity of what we call home.”
2. Satellite constellations
Most of our light pollution comes from sources on the ground since the amount of light produced by humans through electricity is astonishing. But a new reality is also playing a role in exacerbating light pollution — the amount of satellite constellations currently orbiting Earth. And there’s many more about to follow suit.
“Those satellites don’t just spoil deep-space astronomical observations when they cross a telescope’s field of view; they also scatter and reflect sunlight from their solar arrays,“ reads the Scientific American.
The abundance of satellites is causing the overall brightness of the sky to increase all around the globe. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there are currently well over 8,000 satellites hurtling around Earth, of which 60 per cent are active.
3. Negative impact
The growing lack of dark skies is more concerning than it could seem at first sight. It impacts wildlife and human life in more ways than it can be perceived.
Light pollution disrupts the natural behavior of nocturnal animals who may have their sleep patterns disrupted, affecting their health and survival. It can also interfere with the migration of birds and the mating behavior of insects.
For humans, excessive artificial light at night can disrupt human circadian rhythms, leading to sleep disorders, increased stress, and a higher risk of chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Another concern is energy waste. Light pollution wastes a significant amount of energy, contributing to higher electricity bills and increased greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that about 30% of outdoor lighting in the United States is wasted, costing billions of dollars annually.
“Ironically, switching to efficient LED lighting often exacerbates the problem. Because those kinds of lights are so inexpensive to operate and last so long, many city and building planners just assume the lights can be left on all night, without any consideration of the cost or replacement,” comments the Scientific American.
Light pollution makes it obviously challenging for astronomers and amateur stargazers to observe the night sky. This reality has obliged observatories to be located in remote areas to minimize the impact of light pollution, thus limiting their accessibility for researchers and the public.