Bright Lights, Big City, and an Empty Night Sky
Early tomorrow morning (between 2 and 4 a.m. on Nov. 17) will be the best time in North America to see the Leonids meteor shower. Unfortunately, instead of gazing up into a dark sky cluttered with twinkling stars, many people will only see a dull-orange or murky-gray haze when they tilt their heads skyward.
Light pollution, the glare from artificial lights, is blotting out the stars. It’s a problem in cities, but also in suburbs and even rural areas. The damage isn’t just aesthetic; over-lighting can be a costly waste of electricity. Also, animals’ natural rhythms can be disrupted when the night is no longer dark.
But fortunately, there are ways to reduce light pollution, such as using outdoor-lighting fixtures that keep light focused downward on the ground, or turning off those lights that aren't needed for safety. The International Dark Sky Association provides a helpful guide for homeowners about choosing outdoor-lighting fixtures. If you're concerned about light pollution in your hometown, contact your city council, especially when new residential and commercial developments are being planned.-- Année Tousseau