Let ther be (less) light

In Eureka Street (26 Mar 10), Sarah McKenzie laments wasteful light pollution that hides from us the glory of the night sky. "When", she asks, "was it decided that the replacement of our night sky with a near-blank canvas was acceptable? Bit by bit, every year, a few more of Shakespeare’s ‘blessed candles of the night’ are extinguished by the ever-brightening domes that hang over our cities."

The International Astronomical Union estimates that 30 per cent of the world’s population cannot see the Milky Way. "And as the view is obscured" writes McKenzie, "so too is that powerful reminder that we are part of something much grander, an insignificant dot in a vast and expanding universe. Our love of all things light and bright has killed our access to true darkness. "

So much of the light that our cities pour into the sky is wasteful and unnecessary. It’s never truly dark, and rarely is it truly quiet. Deceived by light, the birds begin their morning noise far too early.

McKenzie knows that "If you travel away from the city lights, it’s hard not to be awe-struck by the scale and vastness of the twinkling lights in the sky. On a moonless night they shine so brightly that it seems impossible we could have ever wiped them from our city skies, let alone wiped them from our minds and our children’s imaginations. "

The British Astronomical Association has a Campaign for Dark Skies. This is not just for astronomers, but all who would look at the heavens to learn and wonder-or simply sleep better, whether human or animal.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world. Psalm 19.