“Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky like shooting stars?”
So wishes singer Hayley Williams in the song “Airplanes”. It’s not only heavy cloud cover that obscures our view of the beautiful night sky with its shooting stars. One major problem in the modern world today is light pollution and its effects on human health, animal behavior, and ecosystems.
Light pollution is “any adverse effect of artificial light including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night, and energy waste” as defined by the International Dark-Sky Association. Light pollution has several types. One is light trespass, where light trespasses onto a property where it is not wanted or needed. For example, your neighbor’s backyard bulb shining onto your backyard. It might cause sleep deprivation and interference with one’s view. Another is over-illumination, or excessive use of light beyond its purpose. Commercial buildings and billboards are more prone to over illumination compared to private residential properties. Still another type of light pollution is the easily recognizable skyglow, especially common to heavily populated urban areas. The sky takes on reddish, yellowish, or orange hues as a result of the amount of artificial light produced in the area. Other types of light pollution include glare and light clutter among others.
Not only a substantial amount of energy is wasted through light pollution, it can also adversely affect human health. Negative effects include increase in headache incidence, anxiety, and fatigue; stress; and decreased sexual function. Sleep deprivation may occur as a result of over illuminated sleeping quarters and bedrooms. Likewise, animal behavior is affected by the types of light pollution they encounter. Sea turtle hatchlings, migrating bird species, toads, and several species of zooplankton are directly affected by light pollution among other organisms. Disorientation, disruption of natural patterns, change in predator-prey activities, and physiological harm are some ways the natural world is affected by human caused light pollution.
Astronomers may have difficulties in their study of the night sky through decreased visibility and light-dark contrast.
Studies also show that light pollution interferes with the normal reduction of atmospheric smog during nighttime by destroying nitrate radicals in the atmosphere.
Light pollution can be reduced by choosing the right type of light, controlling its direction, and controlling its duration. Here are some ways you can help reduce light pollution in your home, office, and in your city:
- Focus the direction of the light to the ground. This will reduce unwanted light shining upwards. Especially in outdoor areas, this will significantly help reduce skyglow. If every light in a city is aimed down, skyglow might be eliminated or at least dramatically reduced. This will benefit not only the city but laso neighboring towns and areas.
- Shield the source of light. Taking care to shield the light source will decrease the chance of light trespass and unwanted glare. It will also increase visibility.
- Turn off lights when not needed. This can be accomplished manually or with a timer. If you can’t fall asleep in the dark, consider using a timer to keep the lights on until you finally nod off, calculating the estimated time needed. Or better yet, use sensor activated light switches to turn light on and off only when it is needed.
- Reduce the amount of light used. If less bright light will do, then use it instead of maximum light intensity. You will not only experience less stress from overly bright light, you will actually improve your night vision as very bright light makes dark areas that much harder for the human eye to penetrate.
- Evaluate whether light is actually needed. Examine light fixtures in your home and office area and decide whether they are actually needed. Does the light in the living room illuminate the hallway as well? Does your bedroom bulb suffice for the worktable area as well?
As we work to reduce light pollution one home, office, and building at a time, we will be closer to actually seeing that shooting flash across the sky.
“Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky like shooting stars?
I can really use a wish right now”
- Hayley Williams, “Airplanes”
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