Earth at night as seen from space

Light pollution plagues astronomers as revealed in this nighttime image of Earth from space.

Courtesy Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center).

While many amateur astronomers bemoan the loss of the night sky due to light pollution, few do much to actively combat the problem. But making the public aware of the growing problem just got easier — thanks to the efforts of a high-school student in Midlothian, Virginia.

Last year Jennifer Barlow created National Dark-Sky Week. This year the idea has attracted widespread attention.

Beginning tonight through April 8th, Barlow asks that everyone in the country turn off all non-essential lighting from 10 p.m. until 12 a.m. in the Eastern and Mountain time zones, 9 p.m. until 11 p.m. in the Central, Pacific, and Hawaiian time zones.

The Tucson, Arizona-based International Dark-Sky Association, the world's leading advocacy group for preserving the starry night sky, has endorsed Barlow's idea, as have the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical League, and Sky & Telescope.

With lights lowered across the USA, Barlow and the IDA hope that amateur astronomers nationwide will take advantage of this week to teach the public about astronomical, environmental, and economic impacts of light pollution. "The beauty of our night skies has been inspirational for eons, and it is an important part of our heritage," says IDA Public Relations Officer Bob Gent. "The time has come to recognize the ill effects of light pollution." He adds that better-quality lighting can reduce glare, save energy, and protect the nighttime environment.

"The night sky has been forgotten by many," wrote Barlow in a prepared statement. Hopefully National Dark-Sky Week will encourage people to "look up" and appreciate the wonders above.


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