How many of you reading this right now are aware of the night and why are dark skies important? We believe that night has an intrinsic value for our physical, mental, and spiritual health. Forms of light pollution have been described as ‘glare’, the effect of light that shines horizontally; ‘Light Trespass’, artificial light that spills beyond the intended area to be lit; ‘Over-illumination’, light in excess of what is needed; and ‘Sky Glow’, which is distant light from populated areas reflecting off of water vapor, dust or smog in the sky. Becoming more thoughtful about how we all contribute to lighting up the night is also important for the rest of life on the planet. For example, migratory birds become disoriented by city lights, resulting in collisions with tall, brightly lit buildings. Sea turtle hatchlings try to navigate toward the ocean, but artificial light from hotels and homes along the coastline can cause them to lose their way. Artificial lighting can also influence the development of some plants and prevent trees from adjusting to seasonal changes.
Although artificial light serves some important purposes like safer navigation or being able to extend the hours in a day, I think we all can agree that it’s incredibly beautiful when you can leave light polluted areas and actually see true darkness. Too often, those who live and work in urban areas lose their awareness of the uniqueness of night. When you can go to a state park and spend a night away from light pollution, look up at an enormous dark sky; a sense of scale washes over you. It makes you realize we are living on a tiny planet compared to the rest of the universe that is filled with billions of stars. Many grew up in urban areas and the light pollution was so intense, have never seen the Milky Way, or don’t know it’s there because the only night sky they’ve ever seen are the colors of their street lights. We hear it from our students all of the time. When they get out from the cities many say, “Wow, look how many stars there are!” When they have lived their whole lives in a city or in the suburbs that are surrounded by lights, they immediately appreciate how profound and magnificent the night sky is. And when we take our students to wilderness areas, they often look up to the heavens and begin to feel a sense of connectedness with those who have wandered our sacred lands for thousands of years. This is why we love to share what we know through our imagery and what we get to experience all year with those who witness this for the first time. Many of these deep emotions are often reflected in the images they learn to capture. Their awe and gratitude are infectious and they soon forget that the dark doesn’t have to be a scary place. So let’s all try to be more thoughtful about how we light up the night, because within the dark; it may bring to light your connection back to earth.