Let There Be Dark

Manchester from SpaceJohn Gray over at Going Gently was making a point about light pollution yesterday, prompted by his nocturnal navigational arrangements to get himself from bed to the loo and back again.

I had assumed that as he lives in the small Welsh village of Trelawnyd that light pollution wouldn’t be high on his list of gripes, but not so – he would quite like the street lights to be switched off from midnight till 6am.

He has a point. The depressingly orange glow of the sodium street lights outside our house were replaced recently by much brighter white lights.

It was all part of a plan by Stockport Council to install 3,000 lower energy lights to reduce the town’s carbon footprint and thus the ‘green’ tax liability being introduced by the government.

The thing is, they are really, really bright. Coming home at night it makes my front door look as if it’s illuminated by a particularly full moon shining down through a cloudless sky. Except that we usually see the moon at the back of the house.

Our bedroom is at the front and we already had blackout linings on the curtains, but there is certainly no need to switch on the light in the bathroom any more because it is awash with light from the street these days.

We’ve often thought that it would be sensible to at least reduce the number of street lights left on overnight, but this invariably leads to protests about safety, both on and off the road, and grumbles along the lines of ‘what do I pay my council tax for?’

The thing is, we just don’t appreciate dark any more. We don’t even know what it is.

When we were in South Africa in 2011, we stayed in a place called Swellendam at a backpackers. It was at the edge of town, but even so you had  to carry a torch if you needed the bathroom in the night and it was during such a trip that I was overwhelmed by the experience of outdoors dark.

I switched off the torch and could barely make out my hand in front of my place, but it was the view above that blew me away. Millions and millions of stars shining more brightly than I’d ever seen them before as they only can when it is truly, truly dark.

UK from SpaceThe photo at the top of the page isn’t one of those constellations, but the view of Greater Manchester where I live taken from the International Space Station. It shows just how over-lit we are, especially the supernova of the city centre.

If you click to enlarge the image, I think the yellow lump at the bottom is Manchester Airport and we live to the north east of there, almost on the edge of ‘darkness’.

Even if you head for the non-lit Pennines, you are still have to contend with the orange hued horizon of the surrounding conurbations. There is no way to escape it as you can see from the image above right that shows these islands taken again from the ISS.

It would be nice if now and then we could all experience true darkness. If once a month we could switch off all the light pollution for just one hour and enjoy the diamond-studded beauty of the night sky.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

5 comments… Add yours
  • Stargazer Pudding 30th May 2013

    I’m with you 100% on this. Our ancestors knew the beauty and the spiritual benefits of the sky at night. It linked them to ancient times. People could read the stars. Sometimes I have been out in the Peak District on very dark nights but my view of the heavens is always slightly spoilt by the distant glowing of Sheffield or Manchester. And we live in electrically lit homes – often unaware that there’s bright moon shining outside – turning our backs on the night. It’s not good, not good at all.

  • John g 30th May 2013

    The down side of no lights is that I have a black cat with no road sense

  • gerald 30th May 2013

    In 2000 we went to the Scilly Isles and the night stars there were amazing.

  • Jay from The Depp Effect 6th June 2013

    I’m with you, too. I actually like the new white LED lights, because I so hate the old orange sodium lighting. It was – and in many places still is – very, very depressing, and really quite useless as a source of illumination. It is just bright enough for the muggers hiding unseen in doorways and behind bushes to be able to pick you out nicely as you walk along the pavement, which can’t have been the intention, but is nevertheless true.

    However, driving back home the other night through a village which has had its yellow sodium lights replaced with white LEDs, it was positively dangerous. Bright and white as it was, they were spaced so that the driving experience at 30mph was one of brilliant illumination for a few seconds followed by being plunged into what seemed like pitch blackness for roughly the same amount of time, repeated regularly for two miles. I pitied any epileptics travelling the route, too.

    Living nearby must be a nightmare. I sleep at the front of the house and there’s a respite home opposite with lighting on all night and that’s bad enough.

    Why can they not reduce the intensity of the lighting, or at least shade them so that they don’t glare into anyone’s windows?


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