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When did you last see the dark sky?

Last updated: 12 March, 2010
By Suresh Randadath 22:33 IST

Amateur Astronomers in Bangalore these days travel 50 km away from the city to get a dark sky for observation. This distance is likely to get longer due to uncontrolled urbanisation and thoughtless use of lights.

On a recent visit to the Nehru Planetarium in Bangalore, when the projector was turned on to project the night sky on to the theatre dome, there was a loud applause from the audience. It then occurred to me that probably most of the people in the theatre were seeing the night sky rich with stars the very first time in their lives. A sad and shocking reminder to a silent phenomenon that is unfolding in the sky... Light pollution!

When you look up at the night sky how many stars can you count? Few hundreds, may be? Where have all the stars gone? Where is that majestic Milky Way that used to form the ideal backdrop to the thousands of stars that used to adorn our night skies?
The amber glow that you see in the night sky is caused by the lights escaping into the sky. It is a colossal waste of energy not to speak of the environmental damage caused to generate this energy.

It is a wastage that can be easily avoided by having more intelligent light fixtures that point light downwards completely so that it does not escape upwards. You could read more about it in www.darksky.org.

What about animals?
Light pollution is a menace that is often ignored since it has no visible impact to our daily life. But studies show that our body needs darkness at night as much as it requires light during daytime, to maintain the circadian rhythm. Humans have the luxury of withdrawing to their homes at night and switching off and sleep in the comforts of darkness. What about animals? Do they have this luxury?

Amateur Astronomers in Bangalore these days travel 50 km away from the city to get a dark sky for observation. This distance is likely to get longer due to uncontrolled urbanisation and thoughtless use of lights.

Urbanisation is fast eliminating areas on this planet from which one can see dark skies. Soon a time will come when coming generations will lose this spectacle forever, unless we act now to reduce the light pollution. Our ancestors developed curiosity towards the universe by gazing at the night sky rich with stars. That gave birth to astronomers like Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Hiparcus, etc. But a night sky devoid of stars will rob the coming generations off this curiosity.

Project Dark Skies is an effort to bring back the charm of unpolluted star filled skies back via a dedicated campaign for better use of lighting used in our day to day lives; efficient use of electricity and saving of electrical energy. Great Indian Star Count (GISC), a part of Project Dark Skies, is an opportunity for amateur astronomers to count stars seen in their local skies using pipes, to quantify light pollution. Be a part of this scientific study to quantify light pollution in India by counting stars at night at your place.

You do not have to be an expert in knowing the night sky, as a lay person who does not have basic knowledge of skies, you can contribute to GISC by observing the sky with a hollow pipe as explained in the website: http://projectdarkskies.org, and counting the visible stars.

If you are in fact familiar with the skies as an amateur astronomer, you can also contribute in a qualitative sense by observing certain sections of the sky more scientifically. This campaign runs from March 2-17. A similar worldwide campaign called Globe At Night (http://www.globeatnight.org/) simultaneously being initiated around this time.

Recently, the BBMP issued a directive to switch off the lights on hoardings across the city after 8pm. This is indeed an important move that will help in reducing light pollution in Bangalore. More needs to be done to and it requires a collective effort from citizens as well as the government.

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