December 14, 2017

Review: The City Dark.

Our own increasingly light polluted backyard…

(Photo by Author)

This week, we wanted to give a shout-out to a crucial film. Amidst our burgeoning suburban development, our night skies are slowly disappearing. We’ve written about this many times before, and perhaps many people see this as a singular niche interest. The recent independent film The City Dark by Ian Cheney takes issue with that, exploring the reality and consequences of the loss of our night sky. Like me, the director grew up in Maine, and had the now almost-unheard-of luxury of having pristine dark skies right on his door step. Now, may backyard observers must drive ever increasing distances to simply have the Milky Way visible overhead. Few people have ever witnessed a true dark sky site, where clouds look like shadows and you can’t see your hand in front of you.

We managed to catch the film in its abbreviated 60 minute form on its recent run on the PBS series POV. (Only a month, guys?) The film has been making the indie rounds in the US, and we’re patiently awaiting its online/Netflix release on an as-yet-to-be determined date.

The director of The City Dark crisscrosses the county and documents the vanishing night skies. Does brighter = safer? What is the true cost of illuminating the underbellies of night time clouds and aircraft? What is the cost to nature and us? Far from just pure aesthetics, it’s noted in the film (& recently on this site) that the American Medical Association has stated that light pollution is a major health concern.

We’ve documented light pollution in our own neighborhood and urge others to do the same. We’ve even made limiting magnitude estimations from the most light polluted site in the world, the Strip in Las Vegas. We could just make out the belt of Orion at +2 magnitude, though we were the only glazed-eyed tourist looking skyward to even notice.

Perhaps many non-astros roll their eyes when they hear of light pollution; here, they think, is yet one more thing to worry about in the modern world, along with global warming, terrorism, and “how big is too big” for the latest flat screen TV. I always find that folks do pay attention, however, when it hits their wallet. In fact, with the recent economic downturn, many municipalities are “turning off” to excessive nighttime lighting.

I see the loss as something insidious to the poetic nature of our culture; perhaps the biggest crime is that few actually miss the beauty of the night sky. We’ve become less familiar with nature than ever before, with sightings of such pedestrian objects as Venus or Jupiter being mistaken for UFO’s. (Search YouTube; playing “debunk the homemade UFO vid” can be a fun game!)

Do make an effort to check out A City Dark, and get involved with Dark Sky activism starting viewing the film and a visit to the International Dark Sky Association. This is one you definitely shouldn’t miss, but like many indie gems, you have to seek it out. We’ll let you know when/if it comes back up for watching via PBS/YouTube/Netflix etc in the coming weeks, just follow us on (shameless plug for) @Astroguyz on Twitter!