Thursday, January 31, 2013

LOOK FOR: Light Pollution

My parents live in north Florida, and every few years Matt and I go even further south, to the Everglades, after Christmas. And then we head out by canoe, and camp somewhere far away from any electricity or any roads. It makes for amazing wildlife viewing -- birds, dolphins, sharks, massive stingrays -- but also, at night, for amazing star viewing.

When you're used to the view from your backyard (or apartment window), it's hard to know what you're missing. But let me tell you, the view from my backyard -- and probably yours -- is missing something.

These two pictures are views of the same patch of sky, with very different levels of background light (from houses, businesses, and streetlights). One of them looks about like what I saw in the Everglades, and the other is about what I see from my backyard. Which one looks more like your view?

Image credit: Jan Hollan via Globe at Night

Image credit: Jan Hollan via Globe at Night

A citizen science project called Globe at Night is asking exactly that question, and trying to gather data from around the world about how much light pollution is affecting what people see in the sky at night.

But it's not just about our enjoyment of the night sky. Light pollution affects the reproductive success of many species and wreaks havoc on migrating birds and nocturnal critters.

For the next four months, Globe at Night has listed the moonless nights when they want you to look up, then match the brightness of what you see to one of their charts and report back on their website. One of the windows is now through February 9. The instructions are easy. Take a friend and get outside!

Want to learn more, or get active on this issue? Check out the International Dark Sky Association.