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posted by hubie on Monday January 23, @07:06PM   Printer-friendly
from the point-the-lights-down dept.

Observations from citizen scientists show the sky is getting about 10 percent brighter each year:

The night sky has been brightening faster than researchers realized, thanks to the use of artificial lights at night. A study of more than 50,000 observations of stars by citizen scientists reveals that the night sky grew about 10 percent brighter, on average, every year from 2011 to 2022.

In other words, a baby born in a region where roughly 250 stars were visible every night would see only 100 stars on their 18th birthday, researchers report in the Jan. 20 Science.

[...] "In a way, this is a call to action," says astronomer Connie Walker of the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory in Tucson. "People should consider that this does have an impact on our lives. It's not just astronomy. It impacts our health. It impacts other animals who cannot speak for themselves."

Walker works with the Globe at Night campaign, which began in the mid-2000s as an outreach project to connect students in Arizona and Chile and now has thousands of participants worldwide. Contributors compare the stars they can see with maps of what stars would be visible at different levels of light pollution, and enter the results on an app.

"I'd been quite skeptical of Globe at Night" as a tool for precision research, admits physicist Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam. But the power is in the sheer numbers: Kyba and colleagues analyzed 51,351 individual data points collected from 2011 to 2022.

"The individual data are not precise, but there's a whole lot of them," he says. "This Globe at Night project is not just a game; it's really useful data. And the more people participate, the more powerful it gets."

[...] The good news is that no major technological breakthroughs are needed to help fix the problem. Scientists and policy makers just need to convince people to change how they use light at night — easier said than done.

"People sometimes say light pollution is the easiest pollution to solve, because you just have to turn a switch and it goes away," Kyba says. "That's true. But it's ignoring the social problem — that this overall problem of light pollution is made by billions of individual decisions."

Some simple solutions include dimming or turning off lights overnight, especially floodlighting or lights in empty parking lots.

Kyba shared a story about a church in Slovenia that switched from four 400-watt floodlights to a single 58-watt LED, shining behind a cutout of the church to focus the light on its facade. The result was a 96 percent reduction in energy use and much less wasted light , Kyba reported in the International Journal of Sustainable Lighting in 2018. The church was still lit up, but the grass, trees and sky around it remained dark.

"If it was possible to replicate that story over and over again throughout our society, it would suggest you could really drastically reduce the light in the sky, still have a lit environment and have better vision and consume a lot less energy," he says. "This is kind of the dream."

Journal Reference:
Fabio Falchi and Salvador Bará, Light pollution is skyrocketing, Science, 379, 6629, 2023. (DOI: 10.1126/science.adf4952)


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  • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Tuesday January 24, @04:27AM (2 children)

    by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 24, @04:27AM (#1288307) Journal

    Has been? Do you have any evidence that he already actually did it?

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  • (Score: 1) by anubi on Tuesday January 24, @08:18AM (1 child)

    by anubi (2828) on Tuesday January 24, @08:18AM (#1288337) Journal

    Same questions I have, and why I dropped the link here, hoping someone else is better informed than I.

    I have seen photos of jets leaving enormous contrails criss-crossing the sky and thought maybe that is what they were doing.

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    "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, @01:02PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, @01:02PM (#1288339)

      This test [keutschgroup.com] is to deploy much higher in the atmosphere (20 km) than passenger jets, and it is to release a small amount of aerosol and measure what happens chemically. As far as I can tell, it hasn't flown yet (based upon a quick search).

      Geoengineering is an interesting topic that needs more debate. I think this is worthwhile to investigate, but I share the reservation about the takeaway from this if something like this turns out to be viable. You know it won't be "great, let's cool things down a bit and get us back in line to where we should be," but it will be "great, now we can continue business as usual and kick that can down the road and just keep dumping CO2 into the atmosphere." The underlying problem will still be there, but it will allow ignoring the issue longer until we get to the next crisis point.

      Contrails are an interesting area of study because it seems the exact conditions under which they form is not well known. There used to be a citizen-science web page or app for people to record when they see contrails, but I can't seem to find that anymore either. (Must be too early for me to be effective with my web searches)