I came home quite late the other night and the sky was beautifully clear. As I gazed up at stars overhead, seeking out the Plough, or the Big Dipper, a shooting star shot across the sky! This fleeting glimpse of something so natural and beautiful immediately made me feel happy, excited and all sorts of other emotions! Sadly these days, not many people get to experience such sights, as dark skies are becoming increasingly rare.
Does it matter, you may ask? Well, it appears it does for all sorts of reasons and there is now a Dark Sky Movement gaining momentum here in the UK and across other developed areas of the world to address the problem of light pollution.
Up until about 100 years ago, the night sky was dark, really dark, can you even imagine that? Today, with the ever-increasing use of artificial light, our world is illuminated almost 24/7. The result is light pollution and there are several risks to this constant illumination:
Poorly aimed and unshielded outdoor lights waste billions of kilowatt-hours of energy each year. More than one-third of outdoor lighting is lost to skyglow — the artificial brightness of the night sky. Millions of tons of carbon dioxide are released each year to power outdoor lighting.
Disrupting wildlife and ecosystems
Light at night disrupts the biological clocks of nocturnal animals. Artificial lights can interfere with the migration patterns of nocturnal birds that use the stars and moon for navigation. Birds can become disoriented by lights and may collide with brightly lit towers and buildings. For frogs and toads, when night-time croaking is interrupted, so is their mating ritual and reproduction.
Some studies have linked artificial light at night to increased risk of diabetes, obesity and depression, as well as obvious sleep disorders. Specifically, when our bodies don’t spend enough time in the dark, we don’t make enough of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin helps maintain your sleep-wake cycle, as well as regulating some of your body’s other hormones. The natural 24-hour cycle of light and dark helps maintain precise alignment of circadian biological rhythms, the general activation of the central nervous system and various biological and cellular processes.
To me, that all sounds pretty alarming, so I was interested to read that Dartmoor (practically on my doorstep) is applying for ‘Dark Sky Park’ status. If successful, this application would ensure protection against unnecessary and inappropriate lighting.
Very good news for this part of the world at least!
There’s lots of fascinating information online about how best to view shooting stars and meteor showers and, if you are really keen to see some but live somewhere with lots of light pollution, maps to show you the best places to visit in the UK for dark skies.
The Perseid meteor shower of August 11 to 13 is traditionally the best meteor shower of the year. Between August 11 and August 13 is usually the best time to see this meteor shower, so perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see your own shooting star this weekend – fingers crossed, and don’t forget to make a wish!