photo: Forest Wander/Creative Commons
Back in October, Lloyd wrote a post on how for many people the stars don't come out anymore, all because of increasing urbanization and light pollution--it included a great image of the differences in star visibility from urban to rural skies. It was poignant for me because I live in New York City, where while you can see the stars on clear nights, more often than not you see the haze of lights reflecting off clouds or haze. All of which made a new article from BBC News on dark sky tourism intriguing.
This was the lead image from Lloyd's article I mentioned above. Image: Stellarium.
The BBC piece talks about how dark sky tourism is a "small, but growing, trend" and cites stats from the UK's first Dark Sky Park at Galloway Forest Park. This is Mike Alexandre of the Galloway Astronomy Centre:
Through 2010, we have seen a jump in the business by 25 to 30%...Up to this point, the vast majority of people had a very definite interest in astronomy. The extra visitors have come to see what all the fuss is about, but also because they have seen a dark sky on holiday and want to repeat the experience in the UK.
It was just such a personal experience that Alexandre describes that made the issue of light pollution very concrete for me. Spending a couple weeks recently on Kauai--pretty much the furthest land mass in the world from any continent and nearly entirely rural--I was just amazed at how visible the stars were, how open the night sky felt, and how connected to the night in an overwhelmingly positive way it made me feel.
Arriving there I knew the stats on light pollution and seen plenty of images showing what various nations look like at night with street lights slowly filling in the natural blackness. I also knew that recent research linked increasing light pollution with increasing air pollution. And I knew ways that we can reduce light pollution though design of lighting.
But all of that instantaneously dropped to the background staring up at a true night sky--the night sky that until very recently, in an historical sense, all humans experienced as matter of course.
Why wax on about this? Because until I experienced someplace with a truly dark sky--defined by the Royal Observatory's Dan Hillier as "when you can see the Milky Way"--I had really didn't know what I was missing. And what I was missing seemed nearly immediately to be an essential part of the human experience.
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More on Light Pollution:
For Many People, The Stars Don't Come Out Any More
Starry Nights are Healthier, Cheaper and Reduce CO2
Urban Light Pollution Boosts Air Pollution