Vanishing Orbs

Anara Sharma
Monday, 14 May 2018

The spectacular night sky is gradually losing its visibility. But all is not lost, we can do our own bit to save this wonder of the universe

And as I looked up,
I was transported
Saw stars, they looked like glitter on a black canvas
Each, with its own tint and twinkle
The moon, it looked like the Cheshire Cat’s grin
And I truly felt like Alice
In a celestial wonderland.

The illuminated night sky is a spectacular sight. However, the days when we can gaze at the evening sky in all its glory are dwindling and the locations from where we can see it are also disappearing.

There are several reasons as to why and how sky visibility has reduced. One, is air pollution. It includes fine particles of dust, smoke, etc and also haze, which could result from air pollution itself or natural causes such as fog, wildfires and the like. 

The National Park Service (NPS) of the USA monitors visibility conditions in NPS areas, investigates the causes of haze and works cooperatively with air regulatory agencies and partners to improve visibility and air clarity.

Another cause of fading night skies is light pollution, which is a quintessentially modern environmental problem. Light pollution, by nature, is a problem that obscures its own severity. “We’re losing the night sky so gradually that people don’t quite realise what they’re giving up,” mentions  Tyler Nordgren, an astronomer and dark-sky advocate, in www.vox.com. Starry skies are disappearing and our sense of the universe is also diminishing.

“To see a beautiful, gleaming night sky, most often people have to travel to the city’s outskirts,” says Swastik Bansal, a student of Delhi Public School, Pune, who is also a keen photographer. He adds that he’s heard of exclusive paid camps organised for stargazing, which proves how rare the sight has become. He believes that a starry sky should never have to be monetised.

Pratham Srivastava, a student of Delhi Public School, Noida, and an aspiring physicist, says, “There was a time when people of all ages would look up at the night sky with curiosity and wonder. But today’s youngsters cannot see its beauty, and adults, who have seen the sky’s splendour in the past, are now witnessing its ruin.” He believes that the night sky is one of the world’s most fantastic free gifts, “And we have managed to lose it,” laments Srivastava. 

The issue is that an average outdoor light fixture emits a glow that affects the darkness of a night sky for 15 miles or so in every direction, estimates John Barentine of the International Dark-Sky Association. This led to the birth of the Dark-Sky Movement which is a campaign, initiated by professionals as well as amateur astronomers who were alarmed at how the nocturnal sky-glow from urban areas was blotting out the sight of stars, to reduce light pollution. For example, the world-famous Palomar Observatory in California is threatened by sky-glow from the nearby city of Escondido and local businesses. 

An increased number of stars visible at night can cut down on light pollution and reduce the effects of electric lighting on the environment, improve the well-being and health of both people and wildlife, and save energy. Which is why countries are starting to cut down on artificial lighting and preserving dark-sky places as well.

HOW CAN YOU HELP
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is an organisation and its goal is to fight light pollution and protect our night sky. It also puts forth suggestions that we, as citizens of the globe, can implement to make a difference in preserving this brilliant phenomenon:
- Inspect your home for inefficient or unnecessary lighting.
- Use dark-sky friendly lighting at your home, which would have the IDA’s Fixture Seal Of Approval.
- Spread awareness by talking to people you know or publicising information online.
- Become a citizen scientist, where you are part of a global community that helps scientists measure and study light pollution.
- Advocate for a lighting ordinance in your locality/ city.
- Visit an IDA Dark-Sky Park to help sustain these rare locales for future generations.

Dan Duriscoe, physical scientist, US National Park Service, retired, rightly mentions, “When you see it for yourself, when you see the universe for yourself, there’s nothing like that first-hand experience.” Thus, it is our responsibility to make efforts, and try and cut down on the luxuries of our modern, extravagant lifestyles, so that we appreciate the grander luxuries of the universe.

(The writer is a Std 12 student and is passionate about social and developmental work) 

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