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Earth Science

Night Being 'Lost' To Artificial Light (bbc.com) 119

An anonymous reader shares a report: A study of pictures of Earth by night has revealed that artificial light is growing brighter and more extensive every year. Between 2012 and 2016, the planet's artificially lit outdoor area grew by more than 2 percent per year. Scientists say a "loss of night" in many countries is having negative consequences for "flora, fauna, and human well-being." A team published the findings in the journal Science Advances. It showed that changes in brightness over time varied greatly by country. Some of the world's "brightest nations," such as the US and Spain, remained the same. Most nations in South America, Africa and Asia grew brighter. Only a few countries showed a decrease in brightness, such as Yemen and Syria -- both experiencing warfare. The nocturnal satellite images -- of glowing coastlines and spider-like city networks -- look quite beautiful but artificial lighting has unintended consequences for human health and the environment.
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Night Being 'Lost' To Artificial Light

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  • by silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <silasNO@SPAMdsminc-corp.com> on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @03:48PM (#55605963) Homepage

    At least have them shut off after midnight.

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @03:59PM (#55606059) Homepage

      We could all move to North Korea. That place is pretty dark at night (and during the day for that matter).

    • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @04:03PM (#55606085) Journal

      There would be arguments concerning public safety (and Lord only knows how many lawsuits would spring from such a move), but I could totally get behind shutting off, say, 50% of all street lights after a certain hour (say 10pm?), and in small-enough towns, shut 'em all off entirely (I think a lot of small towns do that anyway to save on the power bills).

      I'm just glad I live 30 miles away from any sizable city, and 20 from the nearest town of any kind (which has like a small handful of dim street lights at most.) When family (especially young nieces and nephews) come to visit, I see the same awestruck look on their faces the first time they go outside and look up on a clear night... I actually have to point out that the big band along the sky is the Milky Way, even to the teenaged ones. Pointing out satellites (especially if it's the ISS) gets an even cooler reaction out of them. Makes me feel damned fortunate and humbled at the same time to get that view every night...

      Almost every property has a big, fat Sodium-vapor or Mercury-vapor light, but it's rare that I bother having mine on, and given that I'm in Oregon, not too many others have theirs on at night either.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        There would be arguments concerning public safety (and Lord only knows how many lawsuits would spring from such a move), but I could totally get behind shutting off, say, 50% of all street lights after a certain hour (say 10pm?), and in small-enough towns, shut 'em all off entirely (I think a lot of small towns do that anyway to save on the power bills).

        As someone who used to walk home every night after 2nd shift and living in a small-enough-town, I can't really get behind this. Mostly because small-enough

      • My sister lives in a remote rural area in northern California. She enjoyed dark skies 'till people bought nearby property and put up sodium lights that lit up most of her property and shined in the windows of her house.
      • by thogard ( 43403 )

        Public safety? I suspect bad public lighting is killing more people than it is saving already. Street lights are the main reason why the most common drug to treat breast cancer doesn't work in about 10% of people. It turns out that humans need about 2 hours of real dark per night or else there can be deadly consequences. There are also strong links between light pollution and prostate and skin cancer.

        • It turns out that humans need about 2 hours of real dark per night or else there can be deadly consequences.

          That's why you buy proper bedroom curtains that are thick enough to block the light.

      • Most street lights are essentially ancient - there are still plenty of sodium and other lights around. These were the best we could do about 50 years ago, but nowadays we could do so much better.

        I'll side-step what we need to do on motorways and big road junctions - flood lighting may well be the best thing to do there, although I'm sure we can do that without sending so much of it upwards.

        Town and city streets need to be lit for pedestrians. Cars have their own lights, and apart from a bit of extra here an

      • Back in 2010 or so Colorado Springs turned off 1/3 of their streetlights to save money.

        People started stealing the wire.

        https://www.politico.com/magaz... [politico.com]

        Take the streetlights. Turning them off had saved the city about $1.25 million. What had not made the national news stories was what had happened while those lights were off. Copper thieves, emboldened by the opportunity to work without fear of electrocution, had worked overtime scavenging wire. Some, the City Council learned, had even dressed up as utility workers and pried open the boxes at the base of streetlights in broad daylight. Keeping the lights off might have saved some money in the short term, but the cost to fix what had been stolen ran to some $5 million.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Every time a small town or village does that, guess what happens? The burglars, thieves and muggers come out. They even stick to those bits of the street where every other street light has been switched off to save money.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @05:46PM (#55606981)
        [citation needed]
        • Mods should be ashamed of up-voting such an incredibly lazy comment. It's a 'trendy' meme here on /., but anyone can say those words, but how about demanding that they also throw in some opposing facts.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Every time a small town or village does that, guess what happens? The burglars, thieves and muggers come out. They even stick to those bits of the street where every other street light has been switched off to save money.

        So put IR sensors on the street lights so they come on when there's someone around. The "burglars, thieves and muggers" won't like the way a pool of light follows them around and shows where they are.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Ga. Tech has a long running experiment going where only a percentage of the lighting is on at any given time. BUT, it's randomized. Any given light could come on at any time.

        Or, turn all the lights off and dark adapted eyes will see the muggers 100 yards away.

    • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @06:03PM (#55607137)

      At least have them shut off after midnight.

      Simply redesigning them (and other outside illumination lighting) would be a huge gain. A bit less than 10% of light hitting the ground in an urban area gets scattered back up into the sky. So if the lights are designed to shine light on the ground only (no light being sent horizontally, where it just creates glare, or worse directly into the sky) there would be a large reduction in light pollution.

      LEDs can help a lot here since they are inherently directional, it takes effort to make them spew light in other directions. But light makers are willing to provide them to the market since people want to buy lights that resemble lights they are used to.

      Similarly regulating sign lighting so that you don't have bright lights at the bottom of a sign pointing straight-up, and regulating the use of light as a form of advertising and promotion. A lot of commercial light use is abusive, using brilliant light-emitting signage throwing light everywhere.

      On highways with light traffic late at night "smart" lights can be implemented that turn off when there are no cars for them to aid.

    • How's about we just point them down, and dim them after midnight? Having them turned on is a public safety issue.

    • Some places do that, either permanently or only when no movement is detected in the vicinity. I spent some time in a small village in Germany and after 11 PM the street lights were turned off except at intersections. That saved a lot of electricity and money. Several places now have street lights with motion detectors so that they only turn on if a pedestrian or a car comes along. That is a good compromise to save power without sacrificing safety and security. Another option is to dim the lights down when n
  • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @03:50PM (#55605975) Homepage

    The street lights on the road behind my house were damaged by hurricane Irma and still have not been fixed, and I'm loving it. The darkness outside at night is beautiful and serene; I hate the ugly yellow-orange glow of sodium lighting.

    I wish people would appreciate darkness at night. And even then, "security" lighting can be done so that an area is softly lit without blasting bright light in all directions.

    • The sodium lights are all steadily being replaced by LED.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by RailRide ( 737108 )

        New York City is in the midst of a sodium-to-LED street-lamp upgrade. I was going to get a before-and-after photo of how my block looked at night when I saw the closest main thoroughfare upgraded, but the DOT beat me to it.

        The lighting is very directional. So much so that the sidewalk on my side of the street (opposite the poles) looks like it's lit by spotlights (the brightness trails off rapidly as one moves farther back but the opposite sidewalk is mostly in darkness by comparison. The commercial strips

        • by clovis ( 4684 )

          Have you ever seen the mercury or sodium lights that constantly turn on and off? It takes a while for them to cycle and they gradually brighten on and off.
          I'm told that bird poop is bad for the now-it's-dark sensor.

          I've now seen two large-array LED street lights near where I live that have failed the same way. They're cycling about once every 3 seconds of full off and then to full on for a fraction of a second. It's like looking at a flash bulb going off every three seconds - total darkness, FLASH, total da

          • by Anonymous Coward
            That isn't poop on the sensor for the sodium lamps. That's the bulb going bad and overheating the ballast. It overheats and shuts down, then when it's cool it turns on only to eventually shut down again. For the LEDs it sounds like the power supply is failing; the capacitors will hold up the voltage long enough to get a flash out, but once they're drained enough the supply can't keep up with the required power, shuts down, and tries to start back up again.
        • IMHO, LED street lights are *worse* than high-pressure sodium. Especially in areas like rural freeway interchanges that are lit up like a stadium, but surrounded by inky darkness. Bluish LED lights destroy your night vision for a minute or two once you're back in the dark. Orange sodium lights aren't nearly as bad. And because they *aren't* as directional, there's a more gradual drop-off in brightness as you drive away.

          With LEDs, it's like, "Darkness... darkness... BAM! Blinding blue-white light. BAM! Pitch

      • I've noticed that most of the new/replaced LED streetlights in my area seem to scatter _much_ less light upward than the sodium vapor lights before them. Could just be the styles that our city/county are implementing. Many of them have such a sharp downware angle that I can't tell they're on until I get within a few hundred yards of them on the highway.
    • The street lights on the road behind my house were damaged by hurricane Irma and still have not been fixed, and I'm loving it. The darkness outside at night is beautiful and serene; I hate the ugly yellow-orange glow of sodium lighting.

      I wish people would appreciate darkness at night. And even then, "security" lighting can be done so that an area is softly lit without blasting bright light in all directions.

      sincerely,
      The Island of Puerto Rico

  • by Anonymous Coward
    With the advent of CFL and now LED lighting, it has never been more cost effective to push back the night. This will only become a larger problem as more advances are made. Humans are creatures of daylight, why would we not modify our environment to suit our preference? We've been doing it for centuries.
  • YOU CAN HELP (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The good news is that light pollution, unlike many other forms of pollution, is reversible and each one of us can make a difference! Just being aware that light pollution is a problem is not enough; the need is for action. You can start by minimizing the light from your own home at night. You can do this by following these simple steps.

    Open the door
    get on the floor
    Everybody walk the dinosaur

  • by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @03:54PM (#55606021)
    I think humans have a very natural fear of the dark. This might explain why outdoor lighting is increasing. We fear becoming victims as our primary sense is sight. Our ancestors fear becoming prey at night.
    • Re:Fear of the dark (Score:4, Informative)

      by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @04:06PM (#55606119) Journal

      Odd thing is, a healthy set of eyes can adjust to most conditions at night - at least enough to avoid tripping on anything. Under a full moon, you can see pretty much anything you need to (as long as you're not in the deep woods or anything). You just have to sit still in the dark until your eyes adjust.

      • And under a new moon or when clouded, you can't even see your own hand in front of your face.
        No amount of adaptation helps if there is practically no light to adapt to.
        It's a rare occurrence for those of us living in developed countries to have no light outside, as usually there is always some kind of light source relatively nearby, even if it is the diffuse light coming from a nearby city. But in the real wilderness with no civilization nearby, when it gets dark it is really, really dark.

        • I've been able to see the ground and walk with no moon. It takes 30-45 minutes of dark adaptation.

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          So one the rare occasion where there is actually not enough light and you are walking on uneven terrain, use a flashlight.

      • by mjwx ( 966435 )

        Odd thing is, a healthy set of eyes can adjust to most conditions at night - at least enough to avoid tripping on anything. Under a full moon, you can see pretty much anything you need to (as long as you're not in the deep woods or anything). You just have to sit still in the dark until your eyes adjust.

        Trying to put this nicely, you've never seen the full dark.

        As you've elluded to, the moon has phases, at the full moon the moon fully illuminated by the sun which reflects back to earth, here there is enough light for someone with good eyes to reliably see objects. At the new moon, it's entirely in the planets shadow, so very little light is reflected, this is when it is properly dark and you definately wont be able to see because there is not enough light for your eyes to operate.

        The problem you have

      • Moon? We attend astronomy gatherings regularly. After about an hour you don't need a moon. Start light alone can help you navigate without running into things or even starting from the path.

        • Yep. I routinely drive up to 9000 feet with my telescope and I can walk around just fine by starlight only.

    • I think humans have a very natural fear of the dark. This might explain why outdoor lighting is increasing.

      No we don't fear dark. We fear preconceptions. Such as that criminals hide in the dark or that someone may sue is for not providing them light. Very few people are afraid of the dark itself.

  • Beam Angle (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @03:56PM (#55606043) Journal
    If you want to add exterior lighting to your home, there is pretty much just "flood" style lights on the market. These lights shine at a very wide angle, meaning most of it is wasted. Even if you want to buy better light fixtures, they are very hard to find.
    • If you want to add exterior lighting to your home, there is pretty much just "flood" style lights on the market. These lights shine at a very wide angle, meaning most of it is wasted. Even if you want to buy better light fixtures, they are very hard to find.

      You might check out "pathway lamps", "coach lamps", "BBQ Lamps", "step lights" and "Umbrella lamps". They all do an efficient job of lighting just the needed area. My big-box store has all of them (as does Amazon), including many in solar versions.

      Flood lights really are only needed while looking out the window to investigate a strange occurrence. If light or energy efficiency is needed, you are using them incorrectly.

      • I really don't want to dig up my yard to install those options. That would be extremely expensive.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    As a telescope owner...it's not hard to agree with the premise.

    I used to see the Milky Way pretty clearly where I lived as a kid. I still live in the same area 40+ years later, and I can confidently say it's been decades I've seen even a slight hint of it.

    Since my current neighbor has brought in a flood light that he keeps on all night, I've stopped bothering with getting my telescope out. I only wish I would've had it back when I was a kid.

  • by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @05:54PM (#55607039)

    I work with an organization that operates at a wilderness site, some 50+ miles from the nearest population center. We ourselves are very careful with our outdoor lighting, providing just enough illumination to be safe, and no more than that. As such, our skies are absolutely incredible.

    One of the things I love to do is if I run into someone new on a clear night is to basically go "So.... have you looked up?" in so many cases, they haven't yet, and are simply blown away. It's really quite sad how many people have never seen the Milky Way with their own eyes. The amusing thing, though, is that there are so many stars that it is actually rather difficult to pick out the normal constellations.

    The thing that really pisses me off, though, is the people who insist on walking everywhere with a headlamp or a flashlight. Just let your eyes dark adjust; after a minute or two, even starlight is enough to safely make your way around on well maintained roads/paths.

  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @07:13PM (#55607647) Journal

    One of my earliest memories is laying in the back window area of a '68 Pontiac staring up at the Milky Way while traveling. Of course, allowing this today would likely get parents arrested for felony child endangerment. :-)

    I live on the east coast. Even during the power outage following Hurricane Irma, there were still enough lights around that the Milky Way was only faintly visible.

    The last time I truly saw the Milky Way in all of its glory was during a camping trip in the Badlands. I highly recommend it.

    I wonder at the effects of all of this light. I don't think that I am ever in the dark long enough for the chemicals to gather in my eyes to activate my night vision. I can always see some color.

    And what of the societal effects? Could our reduced interests in space be at least partly due to generations of children growing up who have never truly seen the stars in the way earlier ones did?

    If we can't ban it, perhaps we could at least switch to amber light that allows night vision to activate.

    It is a loss worthy of mourning.

    • And what of the societal effects? Could our reduced interests in space be at least partly due to generations of children growing up who have never truly seen the stars in the way earlier ones did?

      What little public interest there was in space was a result of "beeaaat the rooskies!" propaganda and paranoia. Once the "Reds" were beaten, interest waned. The visibility of the sky or the lack thereof had nothing to do with it.

      The last time I truly saw the Milky Way in all of its glory was during a camp

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        The idea of space travel predated the "rooskies" becoming the bad guys. It predates the Russian Revolution.

        • True, but completely fucking irrelevant.

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            It certainly suggests that interest in space travel wasn't solely the desire to "beat the rooskies".

            • Certainly. But it ignores two realities... First, that period predates the actual doing anything in space. Second, it never was a very widespread interest. The only time in which interest in space was anything resembling widespread was during the Space Race.

              None of this correlates to any degree with the spread of night lighting.

              • by sjames ( 1099 )

                So the many cartoons, comics, works of fiction, etc were all released generally to entertain a very few?

                Robert Goddard did his work well before the russians were the bad guys (he didn't even live to see that come about).

                It is true that interest swelled immensely once Sputnik was launched, mostly because that proved that the daydreams could actually be realized.

                I can't say with certainty that loss of the stars has resulted in loss of interest in space, but it would certainly be interesting to see a study cor

                • So the many cartoons, comics, works of fiction, etc were all released generally to entertain a very few?

                  Doesn't matter whether they were or weren't, we're discussing interest in space not interest in "cartoons, comics, works of fiction, etc".

                  Robert Goddard did his work well before the russians were the bad guys (he didn't even live to see that come about).

                  Yet another irrelevancy.

                  It is true that interest swelled immensely once Sputnik was launched, mostly because that proved that the daydream

                  • by sjames ( 1099 )

                    Anything that suggests you might be less that perfectly correct is irrelevant, GOTCHA!

  • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @07:22PM (#55607713)
    Some 20 years ago I bought a house that had pretty dark skies. So I spent some coin on a 3" refractor, it worked really well so I got a 10" cassegrain. Got about 2 years of great viewing. The kids enjoyed it, I enjoyed it, the neighbors enjoyed it. Then a high school a mile away built lights for the football field, and I lost half my dark sky. That sucked ass, especially as I was paying taxes to pay the electric bill to light up my back yard when that was the last thing I wanted.

    About a year later someone built what I called The Taj Mahal down the hill, maybe 1/4 away from me. The front face fronted both the street it was built on, and my house. They lit that fucker up like Oscar night in Hollywood. Every fucking night. I could damn near read in my back yard by the light from that goddamned building.

    So, scopes went into storage, about once a year we'd head out to the Anza Borrego desert (La Casa del Zorro used to rock, but haven't been there since they closed and opened under new management).

    Someone explain to me why a high school stadium needs to light up my back yard 1 mile away, and why a company needs to light up a closed building after hours like it was the fucking temple of all gods.
    • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

      A football field (American, Canadian, Australian, or the Rest Of The World football, they all work here) has to be lit not just at field level, but as high as the ball can be expected to reach during play, and the ball has to be at least partially lit from below when it's in the air so it can be seen. This means angling the lights upward or at least letting their natural spread cover much of the sky.

      A baseball can get 200 feet or more in the air. The lights don't track the ball, so every cubic inch of the s

      • Interesting! There's a football field near where I live, and I've always wondered why they need such lighting as to glare straight into my eyes when I'm a mile away across the lake.

        Still, there must be a lot of energy/money wasted, compared to indoor alternatives. Also during the winter, the same field is used for ice hockey etc. so it has a cooling system to maintain ice when it's near or above zero, which happens quite commonly here in central Finland. I imagine it uses quite a lot of power when it's a

        • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

          Going indoors would indeed be a solution to the light pollution problem, but in order to take an outdoor game indoors and still have spectator seating means building stadiums that cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the same capacity without the roof. That's why it is only done when other conditions warrant it, such as unpredictable or extreme weather being common to the region, and sometimes not even then. Also, it is difficult to grow a natural grass surface in a stadium without a retractable r

        • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

          Also, hockey doesn't cover nearly as much space as football of any sort. Here is a hockey rink inside a football stadium. [wikimedia.org] Putting a building around a hockey rink is quite a common endeavor, especially in places where the ambient temperature would generally not be conducive to a game played on ice. Such an arena is also conducive to basketball, futsal, handball, and several other games specifically tailored to the size of a hockey rink. However, these are not the same games traditionally played outdoors -- b

      • A baseball can get 200 feet or more in the air. The lights don't track the ball

        Hmm... why not? Hockey pucks were tracked via IR emitters [wikipedia.org] in the mid-90s. I guess a straightforward version would make the ball glow with visible light, so they wouldn't need any upwards lighting at all.

        • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

          Because then they wouldn't be made of just cork, string, and leather, and baseball is extremely traditional. Also the impact of bat on ball is much more severe than the impact of stick on puck since the puck stays in contact with (and is accelerated by) the stick for a much longer time. Pucks also have a preferred orientation where baseballs do not, but this probably helps more with the actual tracking than it does with keeping the equipment functioning.

  • An anecdote... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by djbckr ( 673156 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2017 @08:01PM (#55607897)

    I live near Seattle - about 20 miles out. On clear nights you can see the stars relatively well. I must have gotten used to what I see because I didn't think the light pollution was all that bad.

    Then I went to see the eclipse earlier this year. I specifically chose a spot that was "in the middle of nowhere" (which as it turns out, about 10,000 other people had the same idea, but no matter). I set up camp and settled in for the evening.

    My GOD the stars were brilliant! I laid awake most of the night mesmerized and amazed at what I was seeing.

    Yeah - people don't know what they are missing.

    • by Strider- ( 39683 )

      Similar experience here regarding the eclipse. A couple of buddies and I putted on out to the Salmon Challis National Forest in Idaho for the eclipse. We finally found a spot to setup camp at 11pm, and the first thing that we noticed after shutting down the Westfalia was... oh my God the stars are incredible. I've spent a lot of time in the area around Lake Chelan, and that is good dark sky territory (the Milky Way is quite obvious there), but it had nothing on that spot in Idaho.

      The only time I've seen bet

    • I am glad to see comments about the Milky Way's beauty, which I only experienced once on an country road trip in college.

      For slashdotters who haven't had the chance of running into it, here are a few minutes of timelapse clips of the Milky Way:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      Astrophotography posts on reddit [reddit.com] may have more info if you're curious about implementation, and in my limited knowledge you'd need good DSLR lenses, software post-processing and rotation mounts to follow stars and planets well enough,

  • With supposedly grown-ass adults needing their night light?

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