Connecticut's Night Skies Are Fading From View Due to Light Pollution

 

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That cycle of light and dark governs our bodies’ release of the hormone melatonin and the circadian rhythm that regulates all manner of bodily functions, including hunger and sleep. It recurs approximately every 24 hours, with the light of day as the cue that resets our inner clocks. “It’s a normal and healthy cycle, in tune with nature,” he says. “But now many people are out of rhythm,” because nighttime light exposure (via the eyes’ retinas) has disrupted the circadian cycle.

Science has yet to pin down a cause-and-effect relationship between exposure to light at night and any specific health condition in humans, Stevens notes, but he says there’s substantial research suggesting links to diabetes, breast cancer, obesity, among other conditions.

But it’s well known that nighttime lighting can interfere with the routines of birds, bats, insects and sea turtles, as well as creatures such as fireflies that communicate through light signals. And while the effects of light at night on human health aren’t yet fully understood, the American Medical Association in 2012 issued a statement spelling out the potential health risks and declaring that it “supports the need for developing and implementing technologies to reduce glare from vehicle headlamps and roadway lighting schemes, and developing lighting technologies at home and at work that minimize circadian disruption, while maintaining visual efficiency.”

“It becomes a policy issue,” says Stevens. “If epidemiology finds a large health impact, society needs to put more research into solutions.” Those solutions may be as simple as rejigging the kind of lights we use in various fixtures, shifting to LED lighting and other options that emit more red and yellow light than blue.

Despite his misgivings about the impact of excess electric nighttime light, Stevens remains practical. “I’m not giving up electricity,” he says.

Greg Barker is president of the Astronomical Society of New Haven. On a Friday evening in October, he and a half-dozen other amateur astronomers have hauled their large (and in some cases handcrafted) telescopes to a paved lot in the darkest public spot nearby, Silver Sands State Park in Milford. But even here, the darkness is impeded by glow from lights along the Post Road, the Westfield Connecticut Post Mall, and nearby residential neighborhoods. Still, the astronomers’ enthusiasm is not dampened by the dearth of darkness, to which they all seem resigned.

Finding sites dark enough for these gatherings has become increasingly challenging, Barker says. They’ve tried Colebrook and Marlborough; the last was a great “star party” site—for a while. “We had to move because someone put condominiums in the area,” he says. “Our southern view of the night sky, which had been quite good, was completely ruined.”

The society alternates its star parties between Milford and Branford, which, due to Bob Crelin’s efforts, Barker says offers superior views. He points to the June Norcross Webster Scout Reservation, a Boy Scout camp in Ashford, as the best place in the state to view the night sky. “But I understand a new development is going in,” he says.

At his gatherings, Barker says, “Some people just stare out and say, ‘Why don’t you do this at darker sky?’ [later in the night, when full darkness sets in]. I tell them, ‘In Connecticut, we’re at the darkest sky. If you want it darker, tell people to turn the lights off.’”

Donna Pursley of North Branford, who has her telescope set up at the star party, wishes things were different. “In Maine there are so many stars, you can’t even find the constellations,” she says. “I don’t expect Connecticut will ever be like that. Except in a power outage.”
 

Connecticut's Night Skies Are Fading From View Due to Light Pollution

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