Are you interested in combating light pollution? International Dark Sky Week, which starts today, offers events in which you can learn how.
Light pollution is “the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light,” according to the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), the leading champion in the fight to preserve dark skies. This pollution comes in many forms: the interior and exterior lighting of buildings, advertising billboards, sports stadiums, factories, streetlights, commercial properties . . . the list goes on.
Until recently, humanity — and nature — lived according to the ebb and flow of sunrises and sunsets, with nighttime landscapes illuminated solely by the gentle light of the Moon and the stars. We slept when it was dark and rose with the Sun. With the advent of electricity and 24-hour lighting, we’ve lost touch with our circadian rhythms.
A groundbreaking 2016 study found that a whopping 80% of the world’s population lives with the consequences of skyglow, the brightening of the night sky due to street and house lights. If you live in the United States or Europe, you're likely worse off: Skyglow and other detrimental effects of light pollution hide the Milky Way from an eye-watering 99% of the population. Visit NASA's Blue Marble Navigator to see at a glance how bad light pollution is in your area.
Light pollution doesn’t only blot out the wonders of the universe. It also severely disrupts wildlife and the ecosystem — nocturnal creatures become confused, birds fly into windows, it even affects the growth patterns of trees, besides also harming our health.
Organizations such as the IDA are heavily invested in preserving our night skies and in raising awareness on the harmful effects of light pollution. And the IDA specifically encourages you to get involved in their efforts during International Dark Sky Week. Here's how you can do so.
Discover the Night
This year, International Dark Sky Week kicks off on April 22nd, which also happens to be Earth Day, and is scheduled to culminate with the new Moon on April 30th.
The purpose is simple: to highlight the negative — and sometimes downright harmful — consequences of light pollution. But it’s also a platform for fostering inspiration, to encourage seeking solutions, and ultimately, to celebrate the night.
This upcoming week is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about light pollution, what the IDA and like-minded organizations do to raise awareness, and what you can do to help by attending events (both in-person and virtual).
- Contribute to the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab campaign, Globe at Night, by measuring night sky brightness observations. All you need is a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Find their campaign dates and follow their instructions: Go outside more than an hour after sunset (if skies are clear, of course), then wait while your eyes adjust to the darkness, about 10 to 20 minutes. You can then upload your observations of a constellation of your choice.
- Participate in a Scavenger Hunt! Grab your family and friends and see how many items you can find on the IDA card during the week — use the markup tool on your phone (a pen or marker on a paper copy will also do). Find them all? The IDA will send you an assortment of stickers after you fill out their form.
- Spread the word on your own social media accounts. If you do, be sure to use the official event hashtags: #DiscovertheNight, #IDSW2022, #DarkSkyWeek. Do you have your own website? That would be a great place to blog about International Dark Sky Week, the IDA, and ongoing efforts to mitigate light pollution.
- Be bold, go bigger: Contact your local radio and television stations and inform them of this week — inspire them to discuss light pollution and its harmful effects in one of their regular scheduled programs.
During the Week and Beyond
International Dark Sky Week is a good place to kick-start your light-pollution-combating efforts. You could start by inventorying your home lighting to ensure you have the right types of bulb and avoid contributing to light trespass, unnecessary light that spills from your property into your neighborhood. Check out the IDA’s recommendations for Responsible Outdoor Lighting.
You can also be proactive locally. You'll find advice on how to approach a neighbor to discuss their lighting. Just remember: Always be polite. Visit the IDA’s Public Outreach website to find material such as brochures, infographics, and videos that you can share in your community and with your friends and family.
Take on a more active role and join the IDA Advocate Network. After following a few preliminary steps you’ll be invited to join the IDA’s global communication platform, which will give you access to exclusive resources as well as opportunities to learn more about dark sky conservation.
Your efforts needn’t come to an end on April 30th. Combating light pollution is an ongoing, global endeavor — and it might even become a lifetime passion for you.
But first, turn off the light, step outdoors, and watch the night sky turn on.