The night sky, light pollution and wildness


The Bortle Scale from


This morning, on the radio, I heard an interesting talk about light pollution. In particular, the ongoing study that the National Park Service is conducting on light pollution and how it affects the national park experience.

When the challenges faced when trying to retain some wildness in our public lands are spoken about, light pollution is perhaps the least discussed.

In many ways, light pollution perhaps has the largest psychological impact upon viewing the lands as wild.


Light pollution map from NASA

A dark night sky with only the stars and moon above seems wild, remote and beautiful.

However, with the growing metro areas and increased energy activity even around protected places,  the night sky is in danger of losing this magic.

I saw an example of light pollution changing a wild area last year in the Pawnee Grassland.


Appropriately enough, this book was in the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park book store.  A pen and paper to remember the book name is so 2008. 🙂

Does it matter if the night sky is not as dark in our wild places?

Just on an everyday level, more municipalities are realizing the safety and economic benefits of less pollution. 

From an outdoors person perspective, I find that light pollution does take away from the wildness of the place.

Being able to look on a horizon and not see cities, airports, etc. but only the Milky Way above does make the area seem more remote.



Perhaps it is a naive or an overly romantic notion, but I feel light pollution does change the feel of the area.

There are some things we can do on a local level. And there are signs that some companies are paying more attention to that aspect of our lives (Companies extracting natural resources using hoods to lessen the effects of artificial light, for example)

I really don’t have too much to say on this issue that hasn’t already been said better by other people.

I just bring this point up to say there is more to wild places than merely designating them as wilderness areas.

In the years ahead, I don’t think the largest battles will be to set aside lands for the public use. It will be to preserve, protect and cherish what makes those wild lands, well, wild.

With a movement to turn over our public lands to state control, increased expectation of connectivity of wherever we go and (possibly) just accepting light pollution as part of our growing society, the wild lands may become a little less wild.

Pay attention to the news, write your congress critters and help keep the wild lands wild.

And, perhaps,  turn off those lights when you don’t need them.

(And want to see where the night skies are the darkest? Check out Dark Site Finder.  Also, after writing this article, I wrote a review about The End of Night by Paul Bogard)

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8 years ago

Pmags. It just isn’t you realizing the adverse impact of light pollution. I’m an amateur astronomer and live in southcentral PA. Your map is…err…illuminating (sorry, couldn’t help meself). Even though I live in a semi-rural area, the night sky here will never reveal the Milky Way. I have to go up into rural Ontario for that experience. It’s sad to realize that we are not seeing the same night sky as our ancestors did even a hundred years ago, esp away from the larger cities, let alone those gazing into the night sky 200 years ago. Heck, kids in large… Read more »

8 years ago

I strongly recommend anyone and everyone to read “The End of Night” if they haven’t already. Be warned: I’ll never look at my neighbor’s security light the same way ever again. I notice dark-sky appropriate lighting, and wasted lighting that goes straight up, and wonder how in the hell that even is even allowed. It changed my perception on all forms of lighting (especially super-bright blue based LED lighting that is sweeping the streets with it’s harsh glare) and it drives my better half nuts as I can’t stop pointing out lighting failures. If one cherishes the dark, and isn’t… Read more »