For most of history, the term “light pollution” would have made no sense. But today, most of humanity lives in much more light than our ancestors.
We used to think that light pollution only mattered to astronomers, who needed to see the night sky in all its magnificent clarity, but now countries around the world are committing themselves to reducing unwanted light.
This week, the NSW government announced that Warrumbungle National Park would become Australia’s first Dark Sky Park.
The area will a refuge for star-gazing visitors trying to get away from the obscuring nature of light pollution, allowing them to see parts of the galaxy that lie behind the glare and beyond the reach of our mostly city-dwelling population.
The view of the dark skies that the park's newly announced distinction will help preserve from development [Image: NSW Department of Planning]
“I am thrilled with the new Dark Sky status, which will give central western NSW the opportunity to educate and exemplify the benefits of dark skies and the use of sky-friendly lighting,” Professor Watson said.
Like most other creatures, humans need darkness for our welfare. As we extend the day and shorten the night, we short-circuit the body’s normal responses to light and dark.
Based on calculations, two-thirds of humanity lives under skies polluted with light, and one-fifth can no longer see the Milky Way.
“For the tens of millions who live under a night sky showing 25 stars or fewer, it is nearly impossible to imagine a natural sky of some 2,500 individual stars backed by great swathes of uncountable billions,” says Paul Bogard, author or The End Of Night: Searching For Natural Darkness In An Age Of Artificial Light.
“Our night sky continues to shape us, but now it is the absence of the universe around us that influences our religious beliefs, our myths, our impulse to create. We are being shaped by a diminished experience of darkness, and most of us don't even know what we are missing.”