It’s time we saw the light of the night skies

A GLANCE at a satellite photograph of Ireland at night shows a huge amount of light around Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Belfast. But there are also areas of the country that seem blacked out, which makes them suitable for star-gazing.

It’s time we saw the light of the night skies

Now that we are into the age of “astro-tourists’’, we will be hearing more about the problem of light pollution — excess public lighting which creates a yellow-orange glow in the sky, blotting out night-time views and also affecting birds and other animals that move around after dark.

Recently, south-west Kerry was designated a Dark Sky Reserve and has been credited as an international centre for viewing the stars. In that magnificently scenic part of Ireland, they’re hoping to develop a niche, astro-tourism business. The area is wedged between mountain and sea, which has the effect of keeping out artificial light Many people have been wowed by the magical sight of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, recently, from the Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal. There can also be viewing opportunities from other areas, like Mayo and Connemara.

People in large urban centres no longer have the pleasure of looking up at stars and galaxies that were once visible. Light pollution is, however, being tackled in some areas by using sky-friendly public lighting, including south-west Kerry where the main settlement is the smallish town of Caherciveen.

According to the Irish Light Pollution Awareness Campaign, road and street lamps are the main contributors to light pollution. Many such lights direct light skywards and outwards. Some even have a glass bowl underneath that spreads part of the light upwards. But, by using a lamp that has a flat piece of glass instead, most of the light can be kept from going above the horizon.

Such lamps are used by the National Roads Authority when building major roads. With vast areas of world now developing at pace and becoming more urbanised, it will become more difficult to view the sky at night. Photographs from the international space station show huge stretches of North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia full of light.

It is notable that only the world’s remotest regions, Siberia, parts of Tibet, the Sahara Desert, the Amazon, and the Australian outback are still in darkness.

Some countries have introduced laws to reduce light pollution, which also save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emission, but many are doing very little to curb excessive light.

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