Jim Richardson

The End of Night

Our night skies are in danger

Originally published in National Geographic Magazine.
All photos ©Jim Richardson
Find more on Flickr: JC Richardson
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Already the lights are going out.
Night ski lighting in Oregon
St. Louis, Missouri where spotlights on the Gateway Arch cast shadows on the cloud cover.
Our story, The End of Night, was published the November 2009 isse of National Geographic. It began by establishing for our readers the great and beautiful wonder of the dark sky, showing them the splendor many may never have seen. We then explored the night-world of light pollution (not a pretty sight), and focused on the unintended but deadly consequences for life in nature; Most of all we wanted to show the simple, economical — and often painless — ways this blight can be reversed.
Light pollution is not a common concern. When you say the words not a lot of people will know what you are talking about. But almost everyone understands one simple fact: they can no longer see the stars and the glories of the night sky like they could when they were kids. And they immediately feel that something precious is being lost. They are right to worry. Light pollution is the culprit.
Birds that died when they flew into buildings after becoming disoriented by city lights
Mt. Wilson with Los Angeles below, Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah
Dark skies in the desert of Arizona
Sea turtles struggle to lay their eggs on Juno Beach, Florida.
Glaring lights in Liberal, Kansas. Residents of Cuba, Kansas try turning off the lights.
The night sky, that glorious black richness where the gods of old lived amid the sparkling stars and wandering planets, is fading from our lives. Fading not into dimness, but awash in light, the unanticipated legacy of Edison's wonder. Barely a century on, the electric light has wiped out much of the once-vast skyscape of our ancestors. Perhaps eighty percent of the world — or put another way, four out of five of the children born today — may never see the Milky Way again. (Already I find people who don’t know what they are seeing when I show them a picture of the Milky Way.)
Arizona Sky Village, a dark sky housing development in Portal, Arizona.
It is worth remembering that what is being lost can be regained. Many cites around the world are refitting their night lighting with energy efficient LED street lights. This is a great opportunity, once in generations opportunity. And around the world the International Dark-Sky Association is fostering the creation of Dark Sky Parks and Dark-Sky Places, where local communities and governments have banded together to preserve and reclaim the heritage of the night.
Chicago awash in light, like all modern cities
If you would like to learn more, go here: www.darksky.org
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Harmony, Florida where night lighting is controlled.
Denver, New York, San Francisco