18 March 2009
"Astronomers are fed up. One fifth of the world's population cannot see the Milky Way because street lamps and building lights are too bright. So scientists are mounting a new campaign, called Dark Skies Awareness, aiming to reduce light pollution as part of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.
"Reducing the number of lights on at night could help conserve energy, protect wildlife and benefit human health," astronomer Malcolm Smith of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile wrote in a commentary Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Smith points out that billions of dollars of light is needlessly shined into the sky each year. Beyond the waste of money and energy, this light is blocking people's view of the heavens.
"Without a direct view of the stars, mankind is cut off from most of the universe, deprived of any direct sense of its huge scale and our tiny place within it," Smith wrote.
Plus, lights confuse and harm wildlife. For example, millions of birds in North America die every year because their migration patterns are disrupted by errant light. And baby sea turtles hatched in the sand often mistakenly head toward cities, instead of the sea, because they are lured by artificial lights.
Preliminary research even suggests that light at night is harmful to human health, potentially reducing the normal production of melatonin in our bodies, which suppresses cell division in cancerous tissue."
By Clara Moskowitz
From Denny: Like a lot of people I'm all for conserving energy and not wasting it needlessly. When we vacationed in Greece a few years back we were astonished at how many stars we could see in the sky with the naked eye. Talk about feel cheated when we got back home to America and suburbia! I've often wondered if turning out the city lights could boost our ability to see the skies in more detail.
What I didn't know is how excessive light during the night hours may be the reason for the increase in cancer this generation. That's a sobering thought! Even if it is only part of the problem it is significant to consider changing.