Dark skies, and the beauty and inspiration they bring to stargazers, are fading against the growing glare of light pollution. This week, take action to keep our skies dark.

...How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

— Walt Whitman, "When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer"

Walt Whitman knew the power of a dark sky to soothe a troubled soul. I experienced something similar many years ago at a summer camp in northern Minnesota, when we got to stay up late one night to watch, entranced, as meteors dashed through a sky sprinkled with a bewildering array of stars.

Earth at night, Astronomy Picture of the Day, Oct. 1, 2006

An outer space view of Earth at night shows encroaching light pollution   constellations of city lights that mimic the stars overhead.

C. Mayhew & R. Simmon (NASA/GSFC), NOAA/NGDC, DMSP Digital Archive

Dark skies are still my favorite place to be, but they're getting harder and harder to find. Light pollution continues to grow at a rate of 4% a year, faster than the population. The effects reach far beyond astronomy: light pollution wastes energy, alters circadian rhythms, and confuses baby sea turtles, fireflies, and migrating birds. Low-quality street lamps even decrease the safety of our streets, since glaring light can decrease visibility and create dark shadows.

The International Dark Sky association is bringing attention to this growing problem — and its surprisingly simple solution — on the week of April 14–20, 2012. This celebration of the night sky started in 2003 with the efforts of a high school student, Jennifer Barlow, and has continued every year since then.

To banish light pollution, all we need to do is increase public awareness and install quality lighting: engaging the community to direct light where it's needed, when it's needed. Learn what you can do to keep our skies dark, including lighting improvements in your own home and your neighborhood. A calendar of special events includes workshops, star parties, and movie screenings across the country.


Image of Anthony Barreiro

Anthony Barreiro

April 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm

As an amateur astronomer, environmentalist, and citizen, I am proud to be a member of the International Dark Sky Association, and grateful for the education and advocacy provided by the staff and voluteers of this fine organization. Other forms of pollution persist in the environment for years, decades, or millenia even after we stop producing them -- my local San Francisco Bay still has high levels of Mercury from mining during the gold rush 150 years ago. But light pollution stops being a problem the moment we turn off the light switch, or install appropriately shielded outdoor light fixtures.

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