Sen—If you’re an American reading this, there’s an excellent chance you live within a few miles of a city. If you live anywhere else on the planet it’s closer to 50/50; but still, billions of people live somewhere close to an urban center.
And that means you probably live under the influence of light pollution—stray illumination that goes up, into the sky, instead of toward the ground where it’s useful. As our cities grow, so does this problem: it erases the stars from the sky, robbing people of their chance to experience the beauty of the heavens.
The World at Night is an organization dedicated to lessening the impact of light pollution. They’ve gathered dozens of top-notch astrophotographers who take pictures of the sky, both to show the impact of light pollution, but also for another, noble reason; as they say themselves:
"The World At Night (TWAN) is an international effort to present stunning nightscape photos and time-lapse videos of the world’s landmarks against celestial attractions. The eternally peaceful night sky looks the same above symbols of all nations and regions, attesting to the truly unified nature of Earth as a planet rather than an amalgam of human-designated territories."
Every year, they hold a contest to find the most beautiful nightscapes, and the winners of the 5th annual International Earth and Sky Photo Contest have just been announced. And like every year, the entries are stunning.
The photo above is one of my favorites; it’s by Majid Ghoroodi and was taken at Maranjab Salt Lake in Iran. The stars struggle to be seen through the glow of several background cities, while a contemplative stargazer looks on. I love seeing photos with stars reflected in water or other media, and in this one the iconic shape of the constellation of Orion stands out; you can even see the orange glow of Betelgeuse marking his left shoulder, both in the sky and in the lake.
As lovely as this shot is, it only won third place… so you can imagine just how beautiful the other photographs are.
Light pollution is a serious issue. It affects wildlife, plants, and yes, humans. And the part that really gets me is that it’s almost totally unnecessary! Light that illuminates the sky is doubly bad; ruining the sky as well as not illuminating the ground. So in a practical sense light pollution means wasted energy, wasted money spent on light that is useless.
But in a more philosophical sense it’s even worse. The night sky is simply gorgeous, a perfect and perfectly free form of nature’s art suspended above our heads. Fixing this problem is a win-win scenario for everyone. That’s why I support TWAN, as well as the International Dark Sky Association, and Astronomers Without Borders.
Because we all deserve the night sky.