Occupy the Milky Way!

But First, Try to Find It

Empire State Building at night. Picture taken in October 2004 by Charliebrown7034

Did you know that a great many people, particularly in cities, have NEVER seen the Milky Way in the night sky?  I suppose you could shrug your shoulders and say, “eh… so what?”  Yeah, I suppose it’s not much of a loss if you’re not into stepping outside on a clear, dark night and seeing stars.  If you spend your  nights indoors, hunched over a computer or parked in front of the TV.  If so, you don’t know what you’re missing. And, for the people who haven’t seen the stars much, their loss, too.

Light pollution really sweeps away the view of the sky at night. When I’m in New York City I’m lucky to spot maybe a dozen stars.  I know they’re there. But, darned if I can find ’em.  But, lucky for me, I live in a rural area and the stars are a constant reminder of the universe from which we all came.

Seeing the stars at night, particularly the glow of the Milky Way, shouldn’t be a matter of “luck”. It should be an every night (when it isn’t cloudy) occurrence for all of us.  But, light pollution has done away with that chance.  That’s too bad, because it’s such an easy thing to fix.  We don’t need to be shining lights UP into the sky for security. We need to learn to use lights wisely.  That means, shining them exactly where we need them, and UP ain’t it.  Painting the sky orange doesn’t enhance safety and security.  But, using the proper fixtures, using them wisely, and turning off the ones we don’t need: those are HUGE steps toward keeping the night skies dark AND keeping the security we need.  Oh, and saving money, too.  Lighting up the sky costs money.   Light pollution also has health effects, on humans, plants, and animals. In light of all this, it’s about time all of us took responsibility for cleaning up our view of the Milky Way. Occupy it. Make it yours. And make it your neighbor’s. Make it the responsibility of all who light up the sky for no good reason (homes, cities, businesses, anyone who shines lights UP without thinking of the effect it has on wiping out the view of the stars, its role in people’s health, its effect on wildlife, and on our wallets as we pay more money to waste light.

The Milky Way as it should be seen. Courtesy European Southern Observatory.

Want to know more?  Check out the International Dark Sky Association’s Web page. It is FULL of information about good lighting practices, the effects of light on life, and the costs associated with overlighting our environment. While you’re there, join up and make a contribution to a worthy cause. It’s tax-deductible, if that’s what floats your boat, too. Light pollution isn’t just the concern of astronomers; it’s everyone’s problem and should be treated as such. Occupy the Milky Way!


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  2. Great post, Carolyn!! Light pollution is getting more and more exposure, which is a good thing. I work every week to educate about this problem, whether through my videos online or in live presentations at libraries or park districts (via educating about astronomy in general). There is a good core group of folks that are doing a lot on the CloudyNights.com Light Pollution forum too – hope you’ll join us there if you can! Clear – and dark! – skies. 🙂

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