Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 8, 2010

Protecting the night skies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:00 pm
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Ranger Elsa & Ranger Kathryn tackle light pollution at its source

It’s just a water vending machine. It happens, however, to have two six-foot fluorescent bulbs behind its front panel, and one can see it glowing on the front porch of the visitor center from nearly a mile away. Ranger Elsa and I set out to do something about this. She inquired of the ‘powers that be’ whether we could remove the light bulbs and leave the machine otherwise perfectly functional. Receiving an affirmative answer, we used our project time today to get a little help from maintenance to unseat one end of each bulb. They shrugged their shoulders after a couple of deft twists, and said, “A tremor. It was a tremor. Nobody saw us do anything.”

Here’s something fascinating I found about dark skies on Yosemite’s website:

A “natural lightscape,” such as a dark night sky, is an environment that is undisturbed by light and air pollution. Dark night skies have natural, cultural, and scenic importance. Wildlife is impacted by light pollution because animals often depend on darkness in order to hunt, conceal their location, navigate, or reproduce. For nocturnal animals, light pollution also means habitat disruption. Additionally, many species have far more sensitive vision than humans. Plants are affected by artificial light because it disrupts their natural cycles. Dark night skies are also culturally important because they are a resource common to all cultures on Earth, and are a metaphor for countless myths and religions. They have inspired innumerable works of art, literature, and connections to the cosmos. Natural lightscapes, including dark night skies, are a scenic resource integral to many people’s wilderness experience. Currently, two-thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyard, and if current light pollution trends continue, there will be almost no dark skies left in the contiguous United States by 2025. Many people seek national parks to experience this vanishing resource.

As I slept out on the basketball court again last night, staring at the shooting stars and lying wordlessly awestruck by the Milky Way, I resolved to do what I could to promote night sky stewardship so that others might also be able to gaze and marvel. The prediction about our night skies fifteen years hence disturbs me greatly. Would you check your driveway lights, porch lights, yard lights? Would you consider changing to a fixture that is covered on top and directs the light downward? Any light that escapes upward without being blocked will scatter throughout the atmosphere and brighten the night sky, thereby diminishing the view of it. Light pollution is reversible.

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