The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates two-thirds of Americans (and 1 in 5 people on the planet) cannot see the Milky Way galaxy with the naked eye on a clear night. Yet the sense of wonder and perspective that can be gained from gazing at the heavens is well worth the effort required to turn off, or at least adjust, some lights. To say nothing of energy costs: One estimate suggests between $1 billion and $2 billion a year is lost in the US due to poor lighting design.
Light pollution also affects wildlife, from bird migration to reproductive patterns. Astronomers complain that increased light pollution reduces the effectiveness of even big telescopes, reducing the science that can be done.
A new atlas showing the effects of light pollution worldwide will hopefully help fuel a growing movement against light pollution. While electric utilities say more light enhances security, studies reveal that lower lighting does not affect crime rates.
States and local municipalities can work to reduce the amount of artificial light from businesses and residences. One increasingly common strategy in cities: shielding lights so they point downward. Lower wattages can significantly reduce light pollution and electric bills. The nonprofit Dark Sky Association in Tucson, Ariz., (www.darksky.org) offers useful ways for the public to help keep the stars burning brightly and people looking up.
Little compares to peering skyward and getting a sense of the infinite.