Take a glance up at the night sky. No matter how many stars you can see, you could still be seeing more. Today a truly dark sky is a rare occurrence indeed. Yet few people give much thought to the problem of light pollution.
Just a few decades ago, they say that one could still observe the Milky Way above Warsaw at night. That is something unthinkable today. It is estimated that 95% of Europe’s inhabitants live in conditions that make it impossible to experience the beauty of the night sky. Light pollution is the culprit.
As technologies grow more advanced and urbanization spreads, we are polluting the sky more and more. Light is also a marker of wealth. We light up our homes, and on the streets we illuminate advertisements, big buildings, churches – anything and everything, but not necessarily what truly needs it. Economists have even discovered a correlation between the amount of light emitted by a country and its GDP.
The result is that cities get surrounded in "skyglow" and their residents even grow accustomed to it. But when one travels just a short distance out of town, an orange-ish haze becomes noticeable on the horizon. It can be quite a disturbing sight! This blanket enwreathing the city in its glow drowns out the light of the weaker stars. Under ideal conditions, more than 3000 stars can be seen in the night sky with the naked eye. But in the city, at most a few hundred are visible.
The question is: Do thinks have to be this way? Is there any chance that the Milky Way will become visible above our metropolises? As it turns out, the answer is a resounding "yes"! And in fact we will not have to turn off all our lights. It is enough to organize them better, to make sure they shine only in the direction necessary. When lighting up a street at night, the fixtures used should direct the light downwards. Instead of putting ball-topped lampposts in our parks, we should install directional lamps. And at night at home, we should turn off the unnecessary lighting on our balconies or in our backyard.
The Copernicus Science Museum and the "Heavens of Copernicus" Planetarium are taking up this challenge. As the organizer of one of the largest astronomical events in Europe (the "Night of Shooting Stars"), we want to draw public attention to the problem, have a positive impact on our surroundings, and encourage others to get involved.
Let’s start with our own backyard, so to speak. Turn of the unnecessary lighting in your garden or on your balcony, which may be shining into your neighbor’s bedroom. We will get rid of the unnecessary lighting in our Discovery Park, surrounding our building. We are also talking with Warsaw officials, trying to make a positive change to the lighting situation in the immediate environs of the Copernicus Science Centre. We want our space to be attractive during the day, but also to sky-watchers at night.
Sensible light management can yield economic benefits, by conserving power. It can also be good for pets. Many animals living in cities have a hard time distinguishing daytime from nighttime, which can take a toll on their health. And so: "Don’t pollute the night!" Join in our campaign and try to help improve the situation near you.
The campaign will kick off on 20 March, at the Copernicus Science Centre. On that date, the Sun itself will dim for a brief time, in the first eclipse visible from Poland in four years.