The Herefordshire hills basked in brilliant sunshine last weekend. Summer had arrived and the skies were cloudless, conditions that would once have heralded succeeding nights of coal-dark heavens sprinkled with brilliant stars, meteorites and planets.
It was not to be. The night sky was not so much black as dark grey with only a handful of stars glimmering against this backdrop. The Milky Way – which would once have glittered across the heavens – was absent. Summer’s advent had again revealed a curse of modern times: light pollution.
The increased use of light-emitting diodes (LED) and other forms of lighting are now brightening the night sky at a dramatic rate, scientists have found. Indiscriminate use of external lighting, street illumination, advertising, and illuminated sporting venues is now blinding our view of the stars.
In 2016, astronomers reported that the Milky Way was no longer visible to a third of humanity and light pollution has worsened considerably since then. At its current rate most of the major constellations will be indecipherable in 20 years, it is estimated. The loss, culturally and scientifically, will be intense.
“The night sky is part of our environment and it would be a major deprivation if the next generation never got to see it, just as it would be if they never saw a bird’s nest,” said Martin Rees, the astronomer royal. “You don’t need to be an astronomer to care about this. I am not an ornithologist but if there were no songbirds in my garden, I’d feel impoverished.” [Continue reading…]