Light Pollution: How It Hurts Us and How We Can Fix It

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Think about the last time you were outside at night and looked up. Were you able to see the night sky blanketed in stars? If you live close to or in an urban environment, chances are, you weren’t. This is because cloud cover and light pollution play a big part in our ability to stargaze. While we can’t really control cloud cover, we can control light pollution.

What is light pollution?

Light pollution is the byproduct of excess artificial lighting created by human civilization. Some sources of light pollution include exterior/interior building lights, streetlights, illuminated sporting venues, and basically anything that releases light into the night sky.  

 The view of Chicago from a plane at night

The view of Chicago from a plane at night

What is skyglow?

Light pollution creates something called skyglow. If you’ve ever been on a flight at night, you’ve seen how cities are encapsulated in an orange sphere; that’s skyglow. In 2016, a study was conducted and it was determined that 80% of the world’s population live under skyglow. Less than 100 years ago, it was easy to see stars on a clear night. Today, you have to drive out of the skyglow that surrounds your city.  

How does light pollution hurt us?

Light pollution affects more than just our stargazing abilities, it also affects the ecosystem and our health due to the disruption of the natural circadian rhythm. Disruptions to the human circadian rhythm can affect our melatonin production which can impact our immune system, cholesterol levels and other parts of our body in general. Birds that undergo migration may migrate too early or too late due to the artificial light and miss the ideal climate conditions for nesting and foraging, leading to a decline in their species. Those are just some examples of how light pollution can affect the world.

Fortunately, there are simple things we can do that can mitigate the effects of light pollution:

  1. Be cognizant of using lighting only when and where it is needed at night.  

  2. If there is a safety concern, install motion detectors with lights and timers instead of keeping a light on the whole night.

  3. If outdoor lighting is a must, properly shield the outdoor lighting so that the light spills downward and not up into the night sky.  

  4. Make sure to keep your blinds drawn to keep light from spilling to the outside.  

If you’re looking to experience the night sky unadulterated by skyglow, there are dark sky sanctuaries available to the public. Jasper National Park in Canada is the second largest sanctuary and if you’re lucky, you may even catch the northern lights on a clear night when they are active!

For more information on how you can help lessen and stop light pollution visit www.darksky.org.

 Jasper National Park during the day

Jasper National Park during the day