Star light, star bright: Why don’t we see stars at night?

By Kate Muska
May 4, 2016

Photo by Creative Commons


When I was little, my parents ran a youth group at our church. Once a year, in the summertime, they would take the teens up north to Canada for a week-long camping trip. At such a young age, I was never able to go along. However, I did hear all of the stories from my parents, and my mom’s favorite thing to talk about was the view of the sky: the moon, the stars—she could even see the Milky Way on a clear night.

If you are like me and you have never been to the wilderness of Canada, which is miles and miles away from cities and urban areas, then there is a good chance you have never had a view so clear you could see literally millions of stars and the Milky Way. This is all because of light pollution.

Light pollution is defined by as excessive and inappropriate artificial light. There are four components of light pollution that often times overlap and combine with one another. These components are urban sky glow, light trespass, glare and clutter. These components include light falling where it is not needed or wanted, brightening of nighttime skies, excessive brightness and confusing groupings of light as well as other aspects.

Light pollution, unlike pollution from things like trash and gas toxins from cars, is something that is vastly overlooked, and in some cases, not acknowledged at all. However, the effects of light pollution are many. Think of 100 or so years ago before artificial light was created and widespread as it is today. The whole world—people, nature, animals, etc.—operated solely on natural sunlight and the systematic turning of night and day. Living creatures depend on the rotation of night and day and the coming and going of sunlight and moonlight in order to function.

Baby sea turtles use the light of the moon reflecting onto the ocean’s water in order to reach the sea after hatching. However, because of artificial lighting from things like boardwalks and seaside cities, the turtles can get confused and turned around, heading in the complete opposite direction. Thousands, even millions, of birds every year crash into windows and buildings because of the allure of glares and eye-catching lights in the night. Plankton use the darkness as a signal to travel to the top of lakes to eat the algae that gathers there. The confusion of man-made nighttime lights can prevent the plankton from surfacing, and the algae overgrows and throws off the entire ecosystem.

It is not just the animals and plants who are affected by light pollution; humans are as well. As mammals and predecessors of electricity and artificial light, we too once functioned by the light of a 24-hour cycle. Researchers have proposed that artificial light in the household can have adverse health effects by interrupting one’s internal clock. It is also said that these unnatural lights may affect the body’s production of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps to regulate the internal clock. So, if you are having trouble with sleeping and getting enough rest, the constant glow of our many electric light sources may have something to do with it.

Of course, we need light. It is unrealistic to think that we can expect cities to shut down when the sun disappears over the horizon, and I certainly will not start to go to bed every night when it gets dark out. Businesses need to run, nightlife will always be popular and there just are not enough hours of daylight to accomplish everything that needs to be done. However, it is important to remain aware. Try shutting things down a little earlier a few times a week, and next time you go to bed, try it without the TV on. And while you are at it, maybe plan a trip to Canada. I hear the view is amazing at night.


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Kate Muska

A sophomore communications major with a minor in English, Katie is very dedicated to her writing. Katie is an assistant editor to the Lifestyles section of the Loquitur and is looking to go into the field of publishing.

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