July 26, 2017

Review: The End of Night by Paul Bogard

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It’s tough finding a good dark sky site these days. I was fortunate to grow up in northern Maine’s Aroostook County, which boasted nearly pristine dark skies back in the 1970s. And when we camped out at Third Lake- a pond so remote that fighter jets from Loring Air Force base buzzed it on their way to practice bombing runs- the sky was an unparalleled inky black.

It’s sad that few realize what truly dark skies even look like today. This week’s review, The End of Night: Searching for Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light by Paul Bogard provides a snapshot of the current dilemma. Out from Little & Brown press, The End of Night chronicles the author’s journey through space and time as he looks at the dilemma of light pollution. Far from being a niche concern of a few amateur astronomers, more researchers are coming to realize that we need darkness, and that our night sky is a treasured national resource.

To this end, the author spans the globe, talking to writers, astronomers, city planners and dark sky activists. Words such as “light pollution” and “light trespass” are slowly making their way into the popular vocabulary, as many communities are “turning on” to “turning off.” Safety and security are the chief factors cited by many in the overuse of night-time lighting, but the author of The End of Night provides a convincing case that both requirements can be effectively met without comprising our night sky.

True, many communities put light pollution way down their list of ecological woes. But the stories portrayed in The End of Night give us hope and the idea that smart lighting may provide a darker –and in this sense better- future. Yes, it is a bit dispiriting to look at a light pollution map of the United States and realize that there are no true dark sky sites left east of the Mississippi, and darned few west of it. The handful left have become the mythical “secret fishing holes” of amateur astronomy, places where its whispered that a Bortle Scale of 2 or perhaps even 1 might be glimpsed.

But all that extra lighting costs big bucks as well. The author notes that the very best way to get folks to listen to you when it comes to light pollution is to mention the impact on our collective pocketbook. Light pollution also has an effect on our sleep cycle, and has been cited as a health hazard by the American Medical Association. Nighttime lighting also plays havoc with the natural cycles of nocturnal animals and wildlife.

But there is hope, as organizations such as the International Dark Sky Association take up the fight. Increasingly, our astronomical observatories are being seen as a national resource, and consumers are demanding dark sky compliant lighting fixtures which can now be purchased at outlets such as Lowes.

Be sure to read The End of Night as a soon-to-be-classic on the treasure of darkness and the poetry of our night sky. It’s a manifesto on par with the greats, and is to the issue of light pollution what Silent Spring was to the modern ecology movement!

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