Where did all the stars go? That’s what Jennifer Barlow wondered one night. Even while looking through the telescope, she had a tough time seeing the night stars.
Her problem had been light pollution, or the extra unnecessary light we use at night. “Light pollution is essentially a blanket of light in the sky,” says Jennifer. “It comes from the excess light from our light bulbs, which is sent off into the atmosphere.”
Because of this, the stars are dimmer and harder to see.
The sky is lighting up at an alarming rate. City lights are one of the biggest culprits. “As we build more and more cities and therefore use more and more lights, we are slowly starting to lose sight of the stars,” Jennifer adds. Besides city lights, light pollution comes from other sources such as lights from houses, businesses, and cars are just a few. Can you think of some other things that are lighting up our skies?
Could all this light really wash out our view of the stars? Yes. The effect of extra light at night is similar to what happens in the daytime. The sun is “out”, lighting up the sky. We can’t see the stars because it’s too bright, but the stars are still there. Similarly, experts feel that soon the night sky will be too bright to see any stars.
Why Should We Worry?
There’s many reasons why the effects of light pollution is important to us. It’s already tough for astronomers to see faint stars – even with a telescope. They sometimes have to use covers to filter out the light so they can continue studying the stars.
When an astronaut goes into outer space, he can see a clear outline of the United States because of all the lights we use.
Effects on nature and the problem of wasting energy are other concerns related to light pollution. “Not to mention that people need to be exposed to a certain amount of darkness each day,” Jennifer adds.
It is for these reasons that Jennifer Barlow decided to do something about it. She organized National Dark Skies Week (NDSW) to help raise awareness and to improve the quality of the night sky. During this special week, scheduled for March 29, 2008 through April 4, 2008, people will work together for a darker sky by turning off any unnecessary lights. NDSW occurs during April’s new moon so even a full moon’s glow will not interfere with the beauty of the stars in the sky.
Although you may look up at the sky now and are still able to see the magnificent stars, there will come a day when only astronauts in outer space can see them if we don’t change our habits. Thanks to the efforts of Jennifer Barlow and other experts, we can stop this from happening. Then, we can all look up at the sky and not worry about living in a world without stars.
Tips from Jennifer Barlow for a great National Dark Skies Week:
1. Participate in National Dark Sky Week. Get as many people to join you as possible. The more people who participate the darker the sky will be.
2. Spread the word by handing out flyers (people can email me if they would like me to send them a flyer), contacting newspapers, news stations, and radio stations.
3. Turn out the lights! If many people participate, perhaps this will encourage more people to participate.
4. Write letters to local politicians. Ask them to pass laws to control the kind of lights used in the area.
5. Take an active role in the elimination of light pollution. One person can certainly make a difference.
For more information, visit the National Dark Skies Week website.
Be sure to visit Stories for Children's website for the April 2008 issue. I talked to Stanley Bookman, and he has some tips to share.