So Much Light, Yet Nothing To See: From A Small Town To The City #DarknessForStars

What is the use of all these lights around us, if we cannot see the marvel that is the Universe? With increasing population the size of the cities is increasing continuously, and so is the amount of artificial lighting around to ‘light up’ the night.  The excess amount of light in the cities blocks the light of the skies,  creating a diffused lighting of the horizon called as skyglow. This is one of the consequence of ‘Light Pollution’. Amidst all the environmental problems, light pollution is probably the least talked about.

People living in cities are missing on a great masterpiece. The majestic and beautiful scene of the stars covering the night sky, like someone sprinkled glitter all over. I was born in this beautiful valley of Dehradun, a heaven for nature lovers. With greenery and tall tress all around you, and considerably less population, it was a lovely experience to spend the evenings lying outside watching the stars, the moon, the planets (disguised as stars), and if lucky to catch a glimpse of a comet. We would spend hours talking about are life and I would share my ideas and what I read about the stars and universe with my mother. On certain occasion when there would be meteor shower, and we would be lucky enough to be on the correct time-zone, I would stay awake all night to see the amazing sight of scorching stones fall through the sky, streaks of fire, as if they were burning just to be admired by us. I remember staring at the Orion, the Great Bear, Scorpio, and other constellations whose name I don’t know, while I took my dogs out for a walk, wondering what would be going on there. Some galaxies and star clusters, so far away that the seem like a single star from here. I used to wonder about the conditions and views of planets I could see, they too appear like stars, Venus(the evening or the morning star), Mars, and Jupiter, with its Galilean moons. The experience is like travelling back in time.

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All of this is strange and unknown to people who live under the illusion of dark skies in the city lights. When I  moved to Kolkata for my college studies, the first thing I missed here was the usual night sky I was familiar with. Because of all the air and ,light population, forget about distant stars, even the Polaris or the North Star, and Venus are hard to see. There is so much skyglow, that in my two years here, I have never seen anything close to the term ‘starry sky’. One distinct day, from my friend’s building’ roof I could see a few stars, but that too after quenching my eyes, staring hard, to separate their light from the light of the city. Those handful of stars was the closest thing to what people here would call a ‘night under the stars’. This view is so rare, that the people who have grown in cities all their life, find it normal. They probably think I am over-selling the idea of MY night sky. I am bothering too much, stars, they say, are nothing so great to be excited about, and go on with their business. But it is people like me, who have spent years, a major part of their lives, their childhood, under  the glittered starry skies, dreaming, wondering and finding companionship in the loneliness of the infinity out there. People in the cities keep missing on astronomical events, like meteor showers, special alignements of planets, or once in a lifetime event like Venus ‘passing through’ the sun (One of the best experiences, I went to a scientist’s home, where they had arranged telescopes, and filters, to view the event, and told us about how it happened, and related stuff. The event lasted a few hours, and we could see the shadow of the planet on the sun, as it moved).

It is only when you have once seen the view, that you really know and admire its greatness.  But we are ‘developing’. Or are we? In this era of industrialization, and urbanization, we are destroying the beauty that is already present around us. Even for my hometown, a lot has changed in the past decade.  Trees have been cut, green jungles are being replaced by concrete jungles, and the light of the heavens is being dimmed by skyglow. What will a small town do with a network of over-bridges? What will I achieve by saving five minutes of my travel time? What good comes from making tall buildings even on a small plot of land? Is unnecessary extra artificial lighting really so important that we sacrifice our childhood joys for it? If this is “development”, I don’t want it.

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The glow you see at the horizon in this pic is called skyglow, a major consequence of light pollution.

I remember reading about this one city in the United States (I guess California or Los Angeles), faced a power-cut, because of which, the entire night sky shone in its full glory, in the absence of any light pollution, the sky was so bright by the shine of the stars and the moon, that they could actually see the arms of the Milky Way Galaxy, our home galaxy. The citizens were so unaware of this feature of the sky, they actually thought it was an alien invasion, or something like that, and called the emergency number 911. The sad thing is, if we continue to ignore the beauty outside, a day might come, when none of us would know what a night sky actually looks like. For that day will be the scariest for dreamers like us, and we will to never realize what astonishing feature we are missing, until one day someone switches off the power of the whole planet, and then the night sky will shine, brighter than anyone one of us could imagine, but instead of getting lost in its spectacular beauty, we will be scared of these unknown lights in the sky. And to that day, will be my hell.  There can be nothing more sad, than living under such glamorous sky and still not being able to see it. Like a blind man, surrounded by the greatest artistic masterpieces, unable to appreciate them, and then calling the world ‘a dull place’.

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Switch off the lights once a month (atleast) together, and look up at the heavens

I honestly hope, people gain awareness regarding this topic, skyglow and light pollution. I hope one day we all have dedicated routines, to switching off the artificial lights simultaneously, and lit under the lights from the stars and the moon, so that we and our close ones, can enjoy the greatest marvels of all, the Universe itself. No matter where I go, my love for the stars shall go with me, and whenever I shall come across a small town, far from the city, I will gladly spend my night, staring, dreaming, and wondering about the possibilities and wonders happening out there, finding solace in the loneliness. Till the day we become wiser, I will gladly hold on to these memories, and relive them every time I retreat from the city lights. Till the next time, Happy Reading! Look Up, and Get Lost!

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(It’s hard to know the names of all the stars and planets and their positions, so I use these two free mobile apps- SkyEye and Sky Map. You point the camera to the direction of the star, and if correctly oriented, the app shows you related information, and can also be used to search for stars, galaxies and constellations. You should give them a try!!)

-The Cosmogasmic Person

PS: Have stories, experiences or views on this topic? Share them below. And, don’t forget to turn off the lights.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. To create awareness about Light pollution is the need of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

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