Who’s Afraid of the Dark?
by Sarah Gillig Sunu -- August 16th, 2013

We are firmly established in our new place on the coast–there are only about 15 boxes left to unpack, which, if you saw how many boxes we moved, is pretty impressive. So far the weather has been pretty rainy (some big storms at night as well), so unfortunately I missed the Perseid meteor shower (National Geographic of course has some beautiful pictures though here).

Checking out the media coverage brought to mind an issue that many people don’t seem aware of–light pollution. Way, way back (8th grade, maybe?) when I participated in the Kentucky Youth Assembly  Youth-In-Government program, I did a bill on light pollution grandfathering out inefficient lights in favor of more efficient lights (i.e., lights that pointed down at the ground, rather than lights that spilled out at horizon level or higher, or lights that were on motion sensors rather than just being on all the time).

NASA Visible Earth http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=55167

NASA Visible Earth http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=55167


My interest in the issue partially stemmed from the fact that when I was nine and saw that the sky was orange one night as I lay in bed, I thought that aliens were coming. Or maybe poison gas clouds (I was an imaginative kid). Turns out it was a cloudy night and there was a lot of light pollution in our neighborhood.

Light pollution is a problem in a lot of ways, and not just for obscuring our view of the night sky. Along the shoreline, light pollution can confuse baby sea turtles, who get misdirected by artificial lights on the beach and can’t find their way to the sea. It also can cause problems for migrating birds, and affects species behavior.

A paper by Longshore and Rich (2004) in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (Front Ecol. Environ 2004; 2(4): 191-198) makes the important distinction between light pollution that impacts our view of the night sky (they call it ‘astronomical light pollution’)  and light pollution that impacts ecosystems (they call it ‘ecological light pollution’). Obviously, some lights cause both kinds of pollution, but it looks like my 8th-grade solution to the problem would have only kept me from thinking that there were more aliens coming, not helped the local ecosystem much.

So what to do? Obviously draw your blinds to reduce light pollution from your house (thermal curtains cut light and maintain internal temperatures, yay!), turn off unnecessary outdoor lights or put them on motion sensors, and…having everyone go to bed as soon as it gets dark is not going to be popular. Many of our current solutions (like my bill in 8th grade) can reduce astronomical light pollution, but we’re going to need something more to deal with ecological light pollution as well.  Get thinking, folks!  Some interesting stuff is happening in several states; to learn more, click here.

Check out the video below for one (adorable, but unrealistic) way to deal with both astronomical and ecological light pollution.

Tides for Beaufort, NC, Friday, August 16, 2013

High: 3:28 AM, 2.95 ft

Low: 9:48 AM, 0.05 ft

High: 4:24 PM, 3.76 ft

Low: 10:47 PM, 0.47 ft

Tide predictions from NOAA Tides and Currents


  1. Tawnee
    Aug 18, 2013

    This is an issue very near to my heart. I’m glad you wrote about it! (I shared it on Facebook for you.) And you know I LOVE the video.

  2. Sandra Ragan
    Aug 25, 2013

    Sarah, I love you comment — it is surprising how important darkness is. Light pollution is a big problem. For years I lived in the country and had no lights or neighbors (Durham). Now I am on the intra coastal waterway and my neighbor’s lights are so bad I can’t even see the sky or sit on my porch. You would think that the waterway would be paradise.

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