August 9, 2020
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A Brilliant Night Sky

Published May 20, 2020

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Have you seen the vivid banner/public art hanging over Route 79? The banner’s message, “Stars Up, Lights Down” and “,” is part of an collaboration between the Conservation Commission and artist Sanna Stanley to raise public awareness about light pollution. At the Bauer Park festival, children and parents painted their vision of the night sky onto one side of the banner. Children at the North Madison Congregational Church painted the other side.

Light pollution is artificial light that shines beyond its intended area. Once a light particle (photon) is created, it travels until it’s reflected or absorbed. Lights that point upward send photons up indefinitely. Images of the earth at night show the Boston-Washington corridor as one bright swath of light. Outdoor lighting sends photons out until they’re absorbed or reflected, whether that’s miles away or in a neighbor’s bedroom.

The problem with uncontrolled artificial light is that all organisms, even humans, have evolved to use the natural light cycle of day and night and the moon to regulate their bodies. Trees shed their leaves and animals migrate or reproduce based on natural light cycles. Human circadian rhythms control sleeping patterns and hormonal cycles, significantly affecting immune systems and overall health.

Unnecessary production of light has unintended consequences. It used to be okay to dump toxic chemicals into rivers; then rivers caught fire leading to the Clean Water Act. Research shows artificial light pollution causes similar serious, if not actually poisonous, impacts to plant, animal, and human health.

I encourage your readers to join the children in their vision of a brilliant night sky by turning off all lights inside and outside their home; sit quietly, eyes closed, for 10- to 15 minutes; then open their eyes and see a different night.

Heather Crawford

Heather Crawford chairs the Madison Conservation Commission.