When you think about the skies of Los Angeles, you probably think of smog. However, there’s another type of pollution we hardly ever think about, one that is not defined by what we can see, but rather by what it obscures. The light pollution of our big cities robs us of the greatest show in the universe, one far more beautiful than we imagine.
The sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles has plenty of natural beauty, but if we could somehow turn off all the lights, the night sky would rival the most gorgeous locations of science fiction. We can see the possibilities of such a place now, thanks to the folks behind Skyglow, a group dedicated to the “unique quest to explore the most exotic dark sky locations and archaeoastronomy sites” in the world.
As part of their work, they released a video (that you can watch above) showing what L.A. would look like if the starry skies were not blurred by the glow of the city. The results are simply gorgeous; it’s as though Earth has been relocated to a dream.
Some of you are probably wondering what the big deal is. This is what you see from your home, or when you drive an hour to get away from town. Yet, for many of us that live in or near major hubs, these skies are not our skies. Ours are sprinkled with small specs of light, spread out like a child’s connect-the-dots sheet. Where we live greatly determines what kind of display we get from the cosmos.
Of course, these images of Los Angeles are impossible. To turn on the sky you would have to turn off all man-made lights, and here they have shown us the impossibility of having both. It’s stunning, but it looks like a dream because that’s all it is.
The real purpose of Skyglow is to make us aware of what we are missing out on by answering this question: “What are the psychological impacts of a sky without stars? Has their loss created a greater void than we realize?”
“(We) also examine the increasing impact of light pollution on our fragile environment, a grave threat not only to a clear view of beautiful starscapes, but also to the very ecosystem of our planet itself. Light pollution affects human health, animal migratory patterns, obstructs astronomical research, and leads to over two billion dollars of lost energy every year in the USA.”
Their work goes beyond just the science of the issue, they also look at the “evolution of our relationship with astronomy over time.”
They aren’t alone in this endeavor either. Skyglow is officially recognized by the International Dark Sky Association, a “a non-profit organization fighting to preserve the night.” Lots of people are worried about losing the stars, which is good for all of us that still look up at them with awe and reverence. This photo from the IDSA shows just how much worse things have become, and how much worse it will be.
This video and these images of a Los Angeles framed by the stars is actually from last year, but you can still contribute to their mission by backing their Kickstarter of a astrophotography book and time lapse series, the works of Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic. Both look at “North America’s starscapes and the growing threat of light pollution.”
You can’t wish upon a star if you can’t see one. Some of mankind’s greatest discoveries started with someone simply looking up at an infinite black sea full of twinkling possibilities, wondering what they all meant. The night sky is too important to lose, and too beautiful not to admire. It’s good to be reminded of that.
What other big cities would you like to see imagined without light pollution? Tell us below.
Images: Skyglow/Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic