Light pollution snuffs out the stars, impacts our wellbeing, conservationist says

New project lets everyday people participate in research

ORLANDO, Fla. – Usually, when you think about pollution you think about our air and waterways, but scientists are now focusing on a kind of pollution high up in the sky.

It’s called light pollution and researchers say it means the same stars kids could look up in the sky and see 100 years ago are now invisible to the naked eye.

The International Dark-Sky Association is blaming artificial lights.

The nonprofit organization, which calls itself “the world’s leading authority on light pollution” said artificial lights from our homes and workplaces create a dome that blocks out starlight that was once so easy to see.

Ashley Wilson, the former director of conservation with the International Dark-Sky Association talked more about it with News 6 Chief Meteorologist Tom Sorrells on Talk to Tom.

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It’s a topic Sorrells said he has a little experience with.

“I got steered into meteorology a million years ago when I was in college the first time by taking an astronomy class. That was my first introduction to sky science. It wasn’t atmospheric obviously, it was deep-space stuff. But I love it. Love it. Love it,” he said.

Wilson said having access to the natural darkness impacts our well-being.

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“It enables us to have a connection with our shared universal heritage with this majestic view above. It enriches our lives by invoking this sense of awe and wonder unlike anything else in the whole world,” she said.

Wilson also said dark skies help regulate your circadian rhythm, or your natural sleep cycle. She said disrupting it can lead to mental and physical health issues, “like diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancer.”

But, it’s not just a people problem. Wilson says it also impacts animals that base their behavior on the lunar cycle.

A map of the U.S. shows how few places without human-made light are left. (Associated Press)

“So they are very entrained and interconnected with the amount of light exposure they are experiencing. But if we are shining light from our communities, and this is what’s known as sky glow, you get this now this light dome, extending over communities, not only is it right where we live, but it’s now seeping outward into protected areas,” Wilson said. “So even areas that have used to be dark, they’re now experiencing our lights, even marine protected areas and coral reefs around our marine communities. They’re impacted by light and so it’s always bright for them as well.”

She said light pollution is expanding and there is a project going on in February that you can get involved with to help scientists track the issue.

It’s called Globe at Night, and is “a community science program where everyone can participate and collect data to help scientists monitor light pollution around the world.”

To get involved, click here.

If you want to enjoy the natural, dark sky, uninterrupted by the glow of artificial light, Wilson said there are a few locations around Florida, including Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, which was designated as the state’s first Dark Sky Park where you can take it all in.

You can also learn more about the importance of dark skies and the risk light pollution poses on Talk to Tom. You can watch it every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. or anytime on News 6+.

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About the Author:

Tiffany produces the News 6+ Takeover at 5:30 p.m., Florida's Fourth Estate and Talk to Tom.