Then there are the people who desperately know what they are missing and constantly dream of the night when they can see it with their own eyes. To them it seems like a magical myth in a far away land.
There are a few lucky ones who have witnessed this mystical legend of the night. Once you've set eyes on it's luminous magic, it gains a power over you that could never be forgotten. Glowing softly with the light of 400 billion alien suns, it leaves you spellbound in it's awe-inspiring splendor. This magnificent wonder of the night sky is our own galaxy, the backbone of night, the Milky Way!
Those who have seen it, are now helplessly watching it fade away. Sprawled across the sky every night it dimly flickers in the background obscured by self important lights blaring from bustling cities and towns. This once prominent giant of the heavens is like an endangered species with an ever decreasing habitat forced out by the hands of man.
Until about 100 years ago every human being from every corner on Earth had the luxury of looking up at night to see this incredible marvel. For the entire history of humanity until that time, 100 percent of the people in the world saw our galaxy rise and set at night with amazing clarity. Everyone could see it clearly without question. Now it is estimated that as many as 80 percent of people alive today have NEVER seen the Milky Way.
When a massive power outage struck southern California in the 1990s, Los Angeles residents reportedly called 911 to express alarm about strange clouds hovering overhead. They were seeing the Milky Way for the very first time.
Life on Earth needs the darkness of night and the Milky Way just as much as we need the Sun to shine every morning. We have evolved on a planet with defined nights and days. Light pollution is wreaking havoc on the health of every species, humans included. How will life evolve now with this dramatic new change to artificial light at night?
"The 24-hour day/night cycle, known as the circadian clock, affects physiologic processes in almost all organisms, including humans. These processes include brain wave patterns, hormone production (melatonin), cell regulation and other biologic activities. Disruption of these rhythms can result in insomnia, depression, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. As of 2012 the American Medical Association has recognized light at night as a carcinogen and a health risk.
Animals and plants live by a rhythm that is attuned to our planet's 24-hour cycle. This is an inherited trait, which is passed on through the genes of a species. Humans may notice a change in their circadian rhythm when they travel by airplane between several time zones, characterized by sleepiness, lethargy, or a general sense that something is "off." Wildlife and fish experience this same disorientation of time when there is too much artiﬁcial light at night. Behaviors governing mating, migration, sleep, and ﬁnding food are determined by the length of nighttime. Light pollution negatively disrupts these age-old patterns" -The International Dark-Sky Association
All the photos in this article, except for the main photo, were taken by astrophotographer Chris Georgia. The main photo taken by Kevin Haszard, is of Chris gazing at the Milky Way. He lives in Manchester, New Hampshire and sometimes finds himself driving further than ever just to find a dark sky. He often takes trips to dark sky places like national parks. He knows light pollution all too well.
He says of the photo below "After spending some time in Acadia National Park I have come home to a quite disappointing sky. The Milky Way barely visible, not as many stars, and a glow over the horizon. This is a prime example of light being used in a wasteful manner."
Even though the photo below is beautiful he says it's not the way the sky should look. "The reason you can only view half of the stars and a very faint Milky Way in this image is due to the light pollution spewing out of Hampton, New Hampshire and, believe it or not, Boston, MA. Light pollution can effect areas upwards of 100 miles away in some cases."
The magic is not totally lost. WE can restore the Milky Way back to it's original dazzling brilliance one day if we work together and get others involved. Turn off unnecessary lights at night, replace old light fixtures with IDA Approved Lighting and ask friends and neighbors to do the same. With enough people doing these little things we can dim the blaring lights and have our mystical and enchanting nights back.
Learn more about the harmful effects of light pollution.