Feature Article

Light Pollution: Efforts to Bring Back the Night Sky

August 1, 1998

When I began thinking about an article on light pollution, three very different experiences came to mind. The first was 25 years ago, sleeping under the stars in Alberta, Canada. I can still picture that night sky: resplendent with tens of thousands of sparkling stars on a solid black background and the Milky Way’s broad band stretching from horizon to horizon. The second experience was here in Vermont about a year ago. Following a planning commission meeting, I watched a rare luna moth—the first I had seen in quite a few years—circle the bright mercury-vapor light outside our town office. I knew that this large, pale green moth would be alive only a few hours (adults live just long enough to find a mate) and would likely perish circling the brilliant globe of blue-white light. The third experience was a few weeks ago in Boulder, Colorado. Late one night, from the porch of a house perched on the foothills above the city, we scanned the nightscape below. As far as the eye could see, there were artificial lights staring up at us—the few hundred visible stars were losing the battle for visibility above the burgeoning metropolis.

Light pollution is something that few of us give much thought to. Astronomers have championed the call for limits to our night-sky pollution because it impinges on their ability to study celestial bodies; some poets mourn the loss of a spiritual connection to the heavens—but for most people light pollution is not even an aesthetic affront.