Have you lived your whole life within the confines of a large city and aren’t sure what people are referring to when they say that the stars are big and bright? That’s because urban areas are subject to light pollution, meaning that the stars are barely visible on a given night while those that live in these areas can have their daily natural cycles disrupted. There are a lot of things that lead to light pollution such as skyscrapers and traffic lights, but here are a few of the more surprising contributors.
While we tend to think of light pollution coming from near the Earth’s surface, a lot of it actually comes from outside of the atmosphere. Artificial satellites that orbit around the Earth are huge contributors to light pollution. Each year, more satellites are added into orbit and it’s clogging up a lot of the view that people have of space.
This has been an issue for a lot of researchers here on Earth that are trying to study the stars from the surface. “For the first time in human history, we’re not going to have access to the night sky in the way that we’ve seen it,” said professor Samantha Lawler of the University of Regina, who compared satellite usage to cars in the fact that it was interesting at first but has now become cluttered.
Light pollution tends to be thought of as only the sky high above us, but it can also be a more surface-level issue. Vehicles in rural areas don’t contribute much to light pollution since you only tend to get one vehicle that goes down an otherwise empty road every few minutes or so.
When there’s a traffic jam at night on a major freeway, though, a lot of light pollution is created. Think of those timelapse photos of freeways at night with the big blurs of white headlights and red taillights. When you add in the people that use headlights brighter than what’s necessary, that only makes things worse.
3. Sports Stadiums
For people who live in major cities, you’ve probably driven by a sports stadium and seen that the lights were on. You figured there may be a home game that night, only to check the schedule and see that the local team was either playing on the road or not at all.
This is a huge contributor to light pollution in urban areas, so why do they keep them on when the stadium isn’t holding thousands of fans? A lot of this is for the handful of security and staff that are still working at the stadium, though the large lights at the top of the arenas tend to be much more than they need.
4. Bad Streetlight Bulbs
While we mentioned that streetlights are some of the biggest contributors to light pollution, the way that they affect people on a personal level can easily be fixed. Streetlights should be equipped with bulbs that give direct light to the areas on the street or sidewalk and nowhere else.
Bad lighting on a streetlight causes light trespass, making an uncomfortable aura of illumination where it’s not supposed to be. Have you ever lived close enough to a streetlamp to the point where you can tell that it’s on from your bedroom despite it being pointed away from you? That’s an example of light trespass.
Companies are always demanding your attention, which you probably already know if you subscribe to any streaming service or watch videos on YouTube. At night, these advertisements get pervasive in terms of light pollution. Think of places like Times Square or the Las Vegas Strip where advertisements are illuminated to the point where they can’t be missed.
Even in rural areas, billboards have several high-powered lamps illuminating them and pointing straight into the night sky. It’s a part of the society in which we live, but ads seem to take precedent over a quiet dark night.