Battling the light
Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 12:21PM
Nicole Mortillaro

Why are you a member of iTelescope? If you’re like me, it’s not just because you love the night sky and all that the universe has to offer. It’s also because you can’t actually see what it has to offer.

A map of the light pollution across our planet. Data courtesy Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC.

Since the invention of the light bulb, the night sky has suffered greatly. That little ball of light went from helping us see our way through the night to increasing our work hours and therefore increasing the necessity for extended periods of light.

The design of the light bulb is still basically the same it was when it was invented in 1800s (I don’t say that Thomas Edison invented it since there were many who experimented successfully, including two Canadians - Matthew Evans and Henry Woodward).

Just think about that design. Where does all that light go? Down and out. That light then gets reflected back up into the sky, turning the black sky to pale blue or even orange in some cases.

It’s not that we don’t have a need for light, but we need to start using it more responsibly with better designs, mainly full cutoff light fixtures, which ensure that the light is directed down to where it’s needed. As well, we need to ensure that use lights only when needed, as opposed to illuminating everything all the time.

The sky as seen from just north of Toronto, Canada. Note the blue hue and lack of stars.

What’s most distressing about light pollution is the effect it has on all life on our planet. From the loss of sea turtles in Florida to the increased incidence of breast cancer in women, it is literally killing us.

A 1999 study found that nurses – who work shift work – had a 60 per cent greater chance of developing breast cancer.

It’s well known that newly-hatched sea turtles use brightness as a way to orient themselves toward the water. Normally, they see the reflectivity of starlight on the water and head out to sea to live out their lives. But recently, researchers have found that light from nearby parking lots or buildings are confusing them. Instead of heading out to sea to live a long turtle life, they are instead crushed by cars or eaten by predators.

The universe has helped direct humanity in culture, science, religion and art.  We need to bring back the night. It’s more important than we may think.

If you’d like to see a great documentary on light pollution, see The City Dark. Also, visit the International Dark-Sky Association.

Article originally appeared on Remote Internet Telescope Network - Online Imaging & Telescope Hosting Service (
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