Research Shows Light Pollution’s Impact on Night Sky
By Deborah L. Vence
New research reveals how light pollution has an impact on the night sky.
The study, titled “The New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness,” was published by Science Advances and is the work of an international team, including National Park Service (NPS) scientist Dan Duriscoe.
“Few places on earth offer pristine dark views to the rising Milky Way and starry constellations and light pollution is a bright filter upon this vast canvas,” stated Duriscoe in a recent NPS news release. “Verification of NPS ground measurements with satellite data from NOAA creates an accurate model for predicting night sky quality in national parks and locations around the world, which can be used to increase opportunities for park visitors and stargazers to enjoy this rare and diminishing resource.”
Moreover, the atlas draws on Duriscoe’s research and on-the-ground measurements of night sky brightness and was collected over the past decade of fieldwork in more than 100 national park areas. The resulting datasets helped calibrate and corroborate data from NOAA satellite images of light scattering into the atmosphere. To boot, Duriscoe’s tests also provided essential data for the light pollution model, and helped establish international methods that are in use today for reporting the impact of artificial light on natural environments.
“With the loss of dark sky views, the ancestral stories of celestial phenomena that so richly express our connection to these orbiting bodies are all but forgotten,” Duriscoe stated. “And this is more than a matter of nostalgia. Humans need opportunities for wonderment and contemplation of the universe, and animals need darkness for protection, navigation, nesting and predation.”
The New World Atlas model provides a compelling illustration that sky glow extends large distances from cities, and offers a tool for national parks to work in partnership with all stakeholders to pursue restoration of night skies.
Industries and individuals can help minimize light pollution by adopting simple solutions, too. For example, you can switch to shielded fixtures that direct light downward instead of into the surroundings, as well as use amber, or warm-colored bulbs, instead of cool blue LEDs, which amplify sky brightness two to three times above the typical output.
The atlas project was led by principal investigator Fabio Falchi with Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute (ISTIL, Italy), and with Duriscoe, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, USA), Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ, Germany) and University of Haifa (Israel).