When it comes to stargazing, unlike most situations in life, it has to be completely dark for you to see anything. That not only means turning off your own lights, but distancing yourself from city and neighborhood light pollution. And that’s easier said than done.
Light pollution refers to the excessive use of artificial light, whether from exterior and interior lights in buildings, glowing advertising signs, streetlights, outdoor lighting in homes, or pretty much anything that stays illuminated after dark. It might feel inconsequential, but light pollution severely restricts our ability to see stars, meteor showers, the Northern Lights, and whatever else might be up there. According to the International Dark Sky Association, “The fact is that much outdoor lighting used at night is inefficient, overly bright, poorly targeted, improperly shielded, and, in many cases, completely unnecessary.”
You might think the biggest consequence of light pollution is a steep electric bill, but there are less tangible detriments too. From skyglow, which inhibits your ability to see the stars, to unnaturally bright nighttime lights that confuse nocturnal animals, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of light pollution. And that’s not even counting how annoying the glare from outdoor lights can be when you’re walking or driving at night.
Don’t worry, though. You’re not totally at the mercy of the light polluters out there. There are a few light pollution solutions you can easily implement around your own home or business to make your skies a little darker, and ensure you’re not contributing to the problem. Here are the easy light pollution solutions recommended by the International Dark Sky Association.
1. Choose useful lighting
Make sure the light around your home or business has a clear purpose and think about how it may impact the surrounding area, including wildlife. Instead of installing permanent outdoor lighting, consider using reflective paints or illuminated markers for signs, curbs, and steps. “Lights that aren’t necessary or don’t have a clear purpose not only waste money and energy,” says the International Dark Sky Association’s Communications Manager Lauren Scorzafava, “they contribute to light pollution.”
2. Targeted lighting
Only direct your light where it’s absolutely needed. You can also use shielding to aim the light where it’s most necessary. For example, you probably don’t need a massive flood light illuminating your driveway, your neighborhood road, and the neighbors driveways all night long. “We want to light the ground to see,” says Scorzafava, “not the undersides of clouds or other people’s property.”
3. Keep the lights dim
Make sure your lights aren’t brighter than necessary. When determining your light level, keep in mind that surfaces reflect light into the night sky, and some surfaces are more reflective than others. That means your light may be producing more light pollution than you think.
4. Controlled lighting
Putting controls on your lights can save you a lot of hassle and help automate your low-light strategy. Timers and motion detectors can be hugely helpful in making sure lights are on when you need them and off or dim when you don’t. In addition to being an effective light pollution solution, dimmers and timers are also a good way to save on your electricity bills.
5. Warmer colors
Warmer color lights are better for the environment and for the night-sky-viewing experience. Shorter wavelength (or blue-violet) light is much brighter, so keep that to a minimum. Opt for oranges and yellows — akin to the warmer hue your phone or tablet may take on automatically at night. According to Scorzafava, “You can find a Kelvin rating printed on the bulb or box of most lightbulbs. Lower Kelvin ratings such as 3000K or less are considered warm and generally emit less harmful blue light. You can find good options for home use at 2700K or less.”
For primo stargazing, you’ll need to escape light pollution entirely
While limiting your own light pollution is always an environmentally friendly strategy, oftentimes, you’re simply not in control of your own stargazing experience — especially if you live in a major city. Sometimes the only way to truly see the night sky in all its glory is by visiting an area certified as one of several designations by the International Dark Sky Association. These are locations that have demonstrated community support for dark sky protection, and met specific requirements for limiting light pollution.
There are International Dark Sky Communities, parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and “Urban Night Sky Places,” all of which offer ideal stargazing for visitors. There’s also an interactive map to help you find an IDSP (International Dark Sky Place) near you.