International Dark Sky Week is an annual event, held during the first new Moon of April. This year, it falls on the week of April 22-30. Read on to learn about this international celebration of one of Earth’s most under-protected natural resources, what threatens our precious dark skies today, and what you can do to keep our planet’s view of the cosmos clear for future generations.
What is light pollution?
Light pollution is excessive, misdirected, or obtrusive artificial light, typically used outdoors. Too much light has consequences: it washes out the night sky, interferes with astronomical research, disrupts our planet’s ecosystems, has adverse effects on health, and wastes energy. While artificial light has revolutionized the way we live, it has also created a world in which many people will never have the opportunity to experience the unfettered beauty of the cosmos. Little more than 100 years ago, any person could look up and see countless stars, nebulae, meteors, even the Milky Way itself. Now, such views are a privilege reserved to international dark sky places like the Grand Canyon National Park and the town of Flagstaff, Arizona.
Why do dark skies matter?
With much of the Earth’s population living under light-polluted skies, over-lighting is an international concern. If you live in an urban or suburban area, all you have to do to see evidence of this type of pollution is go outside at night and look up at the sky. According to the 2016 World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness, 80% of the world’s population lives under skyglow—the diffuse luminance of the night sky, apart from natural light sources such as the Moon and stars. In the United States and Europe, 99% of the public cannot experience a natural night sky.
An increased amount of light at night lowers melatonin production in humans, which can result in sleep deprivation, fatigue, headaches, stress, anxiety, and other resulting health problems. It can wreak havoc on the circadian rhythms of animals as well, affecting their migration patterns, wake-sleep habits, and habitat formation. Because of light pollution, sea turtles and birds guided by moonlight during migration seasons get confused, lose their way, and often die. We have the power to make a difference, though!
How can I help?
International Dark Sky Week is organized by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), and organization dedicated to protecting the night from light pollution. The IDA believes that, “The night sky, filled with stars, is celebrated and protected around the world as a shared heritage benefiting all living things.” They promote win-win solutions that allow people to appreciate dark, star-filled skies while enjoying the benefits of responsible outdoor lighting. International Dark Sky Week was started by the IDA with the hope of spreading awareness about the harmful effects of light pollution. To celebrate this week-long event, you can organize a night walk in your community, take inventory of your home lighting, measure and submit your night sky brightness, and much more! Visit https://idsw.darksky.org/#about to learn more about ways you can protect the night sky in your community.
Celebrate International Dark Sky Week
Celebrate our dedication to dark skies by using this week to make some changes in your household, such as changing out bright white porch lights with yellow lights. To celebrate your work, swing by Lowell Observatory on April 30 to celebrate Dark Sky Weekend, which Lowell is putting on in partnership with Dark Sky Brewing. Included with General Admission, Dark Sky Brewing will be at Lowell on April 30 at 7:30pm sharing their brews with our guests 21+ (ID required). Enjoy good beer and dark skies up on Mars Hill to celebrate International Dark Skies Week!Listen to the Lowell Observatory Star Stuff podcast, which will air on April 26, to learn more about Dark Skies, as we sit down with Rader Lane, a dark-sky advocate and a park ranger within the Division of Interpretation and Resource Education at Grand Canyon National Park. You can find all of the Star Stuff episodes here.