Each of us remembers that first time. It might have been down a dark road. It might have been on a camping trip. We stepped outside, stumbled in the pitch black, looked up and there it was—the full, open, spangled night.
My first time came on the California coast. I was 18 and headed north with some friends. We camped around Carpinteria, on the beach. We sat around a campfire drinking Coors, then climbed into tents before full dark. But about midnight, I stepped out for the usual reason. I looked up and became a child again. There above me was all the glitter, all the glory, all the wonder. The splattered sky no longer seemed a dull dome lit by a few candles. Instead it beckoned — moving, shifting, a million stars spreading and pulsing, giving way to more and more and more…. And what was that cloudy swatch overhead? I had lived all my life in the Milky Way but had never seen it. I stayed outside that tent long after I was done, soaring through the universe there on the beach.
Time was when everyone saw the miracle on every clear night. Now, less than a century after electric lighting became common, we have bleached the night sky. Mankind, a 2003 study on dark skies said, is enveloping itself “in a luminous fog.”
The glare fest doesn’t have to continue. Like all pollution, light pollution can be controlled. Many groups are fighting to save the visible universe. Here in the U.S., the most prominent is the International Dark Sky Association. Since its founding in 1988, the IDSA has convinced more than 300 towns and cities, including Tucson and Phoenix, to darken their skies by reducing ambient lighting. (Read about the latest Dark Sky community here.)
What do we lose when we can’t see more than a few stars? Only the stories in the sky — Orion leading his dog (star) Sirius, Andromeda chained to her rock. . . But more than myth, we lose the wonder that has shaped us since the beginning.
Do your part to save the sky. Turn off any “glare bombs” in your backyard. Talk to your neighbors about theirs. Lobby your town to control street lighting. And join the IDSA. The universe you save may be your own.