Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Can you see the stars?

Last month, an article came out indicating only 1 in 50 people can see the stars "as Nature intended" due to light pollution. The article focused on the population in the U.K., a smaller and more crowded place than the U.S.

But America has more than its share of star blindness. Many years ago I visited Chicago, and one of my most distinct memories of that huge city is what the night sky looked like. Nothing was visible -- not a single star -- and the only celestial body I could see was the moon. The rest of the sky was blackish-orange from the glow of the streetlights.

Sadly, many people simply don't know what they're missing in the night sky.

As an example, consider what happened after the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake, which knocked out power in and around Los Angeles. The quake struck during the pre-dawn hours, and people went pouring out into the streets -- only to freak at the frightening "giant silvery cloud" overhead.

Calls poured into various emergency centers, with residents being assured they were merely seeing the Milky Way (evidently for the first time).

According to this article, "More than 80 percent of the world and more than 99 percent of the U.S. and European populations live under light-polluted skies. And according to the world atlas of artificial sky luminance, the Milky Way is hidden from more than one-third of humankind, including 60 percent of Europeans and nearly 80 percent of North Americans."

(Translation: 80 percent of North Americans are urban.)

In an effort to reclaim the night sky, a group called the Dark Sky Association is working with some cities to implement lighting systems that cast lights downward only, rather than everywhere. I sincerely hope it helps.

Ironically, the rapid spread of energy-efficient LED lighting is resulting in more light pollution, not less. The earth's artificially lit outdoor area is growing by 2.2 percent per year, with a total radiance growth of 1.8 percent per year. Why? Because they're so cheap and energy efficient, buildings are being encrusted with LED screens and lights when they weren't before, resulting in far more light pollution.

Can you see the stars where you live? I hope so, because there's no better testimony to Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."


  1. Flagstaff, AZ is an International Dark Sky City (and County) to protect the Lowell Observatory. The skies are breathtaking there. We have installed "Dark Sky" lights on our home. Now the problem is the neighbor next door who demands his lights at night.

    Please carefully consider this website:

    DWLee333, Bend, Oregon

    1. I live in Phoenix and went to Lowell the first time last year. Amazing how much difference it makes when the city is considerate (and smaller) for how much of our beautiful galaxy you can see.

  2. We can see some of the stars but nothing like you. We do go the the planetarium several times a year to see them. We also go to the mountains every summer. We love to lay out on a blanket and look for shooting stars. We can see so many more in the mountains.

  3. Friends work on a remote stretch of the US-Canadian border. They have trained "city" border agents who were terrified to drive at night, because of the darkness (even with their headlights). The best one tho', was the "where did all the people come from?" morning. What people? The ones in the "huts" that are everywhere. What huts? Turns out a couple of fields were round baled overnight! Natokadn

  4. One of the worst offenders is the festoon lighting (lights on a string) that seems to be the rage in cafes, restaruants, and urban patios. Even discounting their effect on the night sky, they invade their neighbors eyes with glare!

  5. I grew up on a farm in north central Illinois. Back in the 1950's and 60's none of the farmers had security lights and the night skies were beautiful. Yes you could see the milky way very clearly. I now live in NE Texas out in the country but everyone, including me, have security lights. You can see some of the stars but the milky way does not appear. Sigh

  6. I live in the Southeast, and while I'm very rural, I can barely see a fuzzy indistinct Milky Way. I have been to truly dark sky places, however--northern ID, western NE, Death Valley. It's truly amazing on a clear night.

    Another passage that's very relevant is Ps 8:3-4. When I'm in a dark sky area, it's easier to get a sense of the vastness of the universe--and understand the amazement David felt when he realized God cared about him given how small he was in comparison to everything God created.

    FWIW, a really nice light pollution overlay can be found here (it also works for Europe, and yes, much of the UK is very bright):

  7. This page has photographs showing gas stations that don't have dark sky lighting, and the ones that do! A HUGE difference! DWLee333


  9. I wish public school kids would pursue dark skies instead of mis-directed feel good plastic bag bans which have been shown to have a net negative effect. They could really help push the awareness of this issue in their urban school districts! Then maybe we could have some solid progress in bringing back some of the awe of the night sky.

  10. Small town in Minnesota -- we see the stars every clear night!

  11. Post Alley CrackpotMay 15, 2019 at 10:06 PM

    In my youth, in a country far away from America, I could see magnitude 7 stars in the sky above me, without the benefit of optics.

    Where I am now in America, the only thing I can see reliably is Venus (magnitude -5) because of the multi-city regional pollution blanket above me which stretches into the countryside.

    Even taking into account my super-strong eyes in my youth and comparing magnitude 6 to magnitude -5, what does that mean?

    It means the skies above me now let in 23842 times less light (2.5 ^ 11) from the cosmos than the skies I saw 45 years ago.

    I went back to "the old country" for a visit recently, and the best I could see was magnitude -1.

    That's a loss of around 98 times less light from the cosmos in a place where formerly the limits to what you could see were the strength of your own eyes.

    I remember moving to London many years ago and thinking that everything was so bright at night, I would never need a flashlight to see anything, and I never did.

    I went back for a while, and it's even worse now -- certain streets are almost as lit up at night as they are during the day.

    This is a kind of loss like the "snows of Kilimanjaro" that requires time and perspective to appreciate in terms of the gravity involved ...

  12. I grew up in a rural area that very quickly became suburban. And have over the years lived in a major city, now live semi-rural. One of the best things I did for my kids was to take them camping and introduce them to 'dark skies' in that manner. I happen to work a 'mid shift', and am always amazed and grateful for the starry skies I see when I come home. Yet the 'big city' keeps encroaching. I've seen plenty of shooting stars (in particular I recall a Perseid shower I watched -in the city, in a well lit hospital parking lot- around maybe 2004) but I do not recall ever seeing the actual Milky Way.

  13. I live in Phoenix, so no.

    Yet... I drive 90 miles north to the pine trees, and yes.. I can.

  14. We are 10 miles from town , the town to the east and the one to the south are an orange glow all night but the stars are clear here , and we could see the milky way better if we turned off our barn light ...but I'm married to an electrician , he thinks the more lights the better !

  15. I've generally been blessed not to have to live in a major metropolitan area; I have still never seen that.

    Even staying away from the cities, what I see when I look at the night sky has changed significantly from when I was a teenager.

  16. Small Idaho town near the Oregon border-the winter sky I love but the Milky Way is gorgeous. And around August 11th is the annual Perseid meteor shower. Lay on the trampoline and watch, nap, watch, nap all night.

  17. Standing on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic during darken ship. I still get goosebumps thinking about the brilliance of the heavens I was blessed to witness...