Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

DANCING WITH THE STARS: Looking up at night in Sequoia National Park reveals dark skies that are an endangered species in the U.S.

The Dark Side of Lights

Sarah Elliott

Nyctophobia is fear of darkness. And it’s ingrained in our DNA. Thousands of years ago, when larger predators relentlessly pursued early humans, the act of gathering around a fire during the night helped humans to survive. Now fast forward to the 21st century. Today, most of society still adds light to the darkness but has no idea that there is a dark side of light usage, known as light pollution, which will soon affect every corner of the world. 

Light pollution is generally defined as the overuse or misuse of artificial lighting. In other words, when too much light is used or is directed wastefully up into the sky, light scatters off particles in the atmosphere, creating a glow of excess light. Light pollution is one of the most pervasive types of pollution and has a stunningly long list of consequences, affecting human life along with the entirety of the biosphere. Such consequences include: 

• Reduced or little night sky visibility

• Possible link to increased air pollution

• Disruption of biological processes in wildlife

• Disruption of human sleep cycles

• Waste of energy and money

The most noticeable consequence of light pollution is its effect on night sky visibility. One hundred years ago, the majority of the world could look up at the night sky and see hundreds of thousands of stars scattered across the backdrop of a crisp black sky and the Milky Way. Even worse, light pollution from cities can spread out and affect areas miles away. Today, scientists estimate that nearly every part of the continental United States is, in some way, affected by light pollution. 

Light pollution is clearly a significant problem, and while there is no way to completely stop light pollution, it is fairly simple to control. By installing efficient outdoor lighting fixtures that direct light down and out at the appropriate angle needed, light pollution can be reduced significantly. This would save money long-term, too, because lights would be tremendously more energy-efficient and prevent other types of pollution. Using less light, of course, would also help. 

Residents in Three Rivers need to be extra mindful of lighting up the night sky due to the town’s proximity to Sequoia National Park. The resources and wilderness areas that the National Park Service protects here consist of not just giant sequoias, mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, and historic sites, but also a dark night sky landscape. Dark skies are becoming an endangered resource even in the national parks because people who live in neighboring towns and cities use lights at night.

The night sky is a valuable natural resource in need of protection from light pollution or urban sky glow. Learn more about the benefits of a dark night sky, meet astronauts who have been in that sky and looked back at Earth, how to light for safety and effectiveness while preserving the night sky, and so much more by traveling just an hour or so up the highway (where it’s cool) and attending the DARK SKY FESTIVAL being held THIS WEEKEND (July 25-26-27) at locations throughout Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (and Lake Kaweah). It will be an enLIGHTening experience!

Dark Sky Festival information: www.sequoiahistory.org

For information on controlling light pollution: www.darksky.org