Humanity is slowly losing its ability to see the night sky. Astronomers have a new word for the sadness we feel about this loss: “noctalgia,” which means “sky grief.”
One reason for this is light pollution. It happens because we use a lot of electric lights. We light up our buildings, streets, and homes. Some of this is needed for safety, but a lot of it is wasted. In the past, we didn’t pay attention to where the light went, so it would go up into the night sky. Surprisingly, even when we use energy-efficient LED lights, we make the problem worse. These lights are cheap to run and last a long time, so we often leave them on all night without thinking about the cost.
The darkest skies are now found in very remote places, like deserts and wilderness areas. Recently, we’ve put a lot more satellites into space, like SpaceX’s Starlink system. These satellites can ruin astronomical observations and make the sky brighter overall. Some experts say that our darkest night skies are now 10% brighter than they were 50 years ago, and it’s getting worse. The loss of the night sky affects us culturally and practically. People all over the world have used the sky to tell stories and create myths for thousands of years. Nowadays, people in cities can hardly see the stars, let alone the constellations. These ancient sky stories aren’t just random tales; they are important parts of cultures. We all share the same sky, and people from the same culture can see the same constellations. Losing access to this heritage is like losing part of our humanity.
Animals are also suffering. If the night sky isn’t much darker than the daytime sky, nocturnal animals with sensitive night vision struggle. Their routines get messed up, making them vulnerable to predators or unable to find food.bAstronomers and experts are using the term “noctalgia” to describe the pain we feel as we lose the night sky. They are also taking action to combat light pollution. Some places have created dark-sky reserves where they promise not to make light pollution worse. Others are working with communities to use night-friendly lighting that doesn’t waste light.
Dealing with satellite-based pollution is harder and requires international cooperation to pressure companies like SpaceX to be more responsible.
But there is hope that one day, we can stop feeling the grief of losing our night sky.
Image Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/heres-why-experts-agree-its-time-for-a-worldwide-lights-out-program-180981980/