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Light Pollution And ‘The End Of Night’

A walk on the dark side with Paul Bogard, passionate critic of artificial light and author of “The End of Night.”

(John M. Cropper/Flickr)

(John M. Cropper/Flickr)

Evening falls, and then night, and we look up into that nighttime sky, in all its glory, and see… well, there was a time when we all saw a slew of stars and planets and galaxies.

These days, many, most, are likely to look up and see reflected man-made light from street lights and gas stations, shopping centers and parking lots.  Blazing away.  Banishing the dark.

We’ve lost the dark – the true dark – says my guest today, Paul Bogard.  And with it, true night.  And, he says, there are consequences.

This hour, On Point:  our vanishing darkness and the end of night.

- Tom Ashbrook


Paul Bogard, author of “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artifical Light.” (@paulbogard)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Telegraph: The End Of Night by Paul Bogard, review – “Forget Brian Cox – Paul Bogard is the kind of guy I’d want to go star-gazing with. Driving out into the darkness of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, Bogard’s gear includes a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee; in Death Valley National Park, the sight of Jupiter causes him to laugh out loud with joy.”

The Daily Beast: Is Light Pollution the Easiest Environmental Problem to Fix? – “Not so terribly long ago, people everywhere experienced nights so black that even the Milky Way could cast shadows on the earth. According to some estimates, around 80 percent of people now live under night skies so polluted by artificial light that they’ve never seen the Milky Way at all.”

National Geographic: With Light Pollution, Perseids Meteors Less Spectacular – “It’s important to remember that a night sky was accessible to everyone through human history, and now that’s gone. The night sky influenced art and science and religion for thousands of years—and it did something that we’re now cutting ourselves off from. The night sky is a resource that belongs to all of us.”

Excerpt: ‘The End of Night’

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  • Mike_Card

    Must be teabaggers…

  • RolloMartins

    Our exchange student from Xinjiang, China was astounded at seeing stars one night. She had never seen them before due to pollution (light and otherwise). Later that night, she saw a meteor go from horizon to horizon. Wow! (We live in a rural town outside of Albany, NY.)

  • John Cedar

    A sure thing worse than the mob rule of democracy is the
    totalitarian rule of the special interest minority whack jobs. If Detroit could only be dark sky compliant, we could all rest easy

    Whenever I develop a commercial retail site, inevitably some douche nozzle brings up dark sky compliant lighting at the site plan review. Generally I agree to such conditions and then ignore that topic in the final site plan. Where zoning codes are specifically too strict, I either get a variance or pass on investing in those communities.

    • Leonard Bast

      In other words, you are dishonest and your word is worth nothing. The communities you pass over must all breathe a great sigh of relief.

      • JobExperience

        Now I know why all these tawdry strip shopping centers with the tax preparers (high interest loan advance shops) and the hair braiding/nail salons are called Cedarbrook. Another anomaly: Does a commercial developer need “200 employees”, or are they really subcontractors of subcontractors of subcontractors. And… is Mr. Badfaith himself really an underlying of an underlying of an underlying of some commercial real estate speculator (provides the dirty hands) ? There are billions and billions of visible stars,, and millions and millions of greedy small operators trying to be noticed. Why would anyone assume that the exploitative and parasitic way you make a living would lend weight to your opinion? I think most of us recall the “Brainstem Phenomeena” where the “bottom boy” speaks the rubbish the boss dare not spit.

        • John Cedar

          Ironical…or is it hypocritically?…the same sanctimonious condescending douche nozzles that tell me I ought to be happy with single digit foot candles of illumination in my commercial space, (which I bought and paid for and continue to pay property taxes on), are the same folks that will advocate for my project to include historic streetlights, which hurl their photons in all directions.

          Professor enigma: A vertically integrated company would need many more than 200 employees if one were to count the development side contractors as employees. But no one would define employees that way.

      • John Cedar

        The communities always want me. It is merely a small vocal minority of douche nozzles who show up to planning board meetings that would be against me. (The world is run by those who show up). Those voices are generally drowned out by people with more sense, who are willing to work for their entire community rather than the vocal few.

        As far as my honesty and my word…its much better than average, but I am not above being misleading to an enemy or a thief, such as yourself.

        • Leonard Bast

          Obviously there is a correlation between liking light pollution and being a sociopath.

          • John Cedar

            There is no such thing as light pollution.

            What some label as light pollution is actually nothing more than a mild nuisance to a few vocal oddball special interest nut jobs.

    • hellokitty0580

      Honestly, I’m not angered by your words, just saddened by them. I feel bad for you that you can’t appreciate a true miracle that everyone in the world gets to witness. Think about the fact that everyone all over the world can be connected by looking at the same sky. That is incredible. It’s a reminder of how connected we all are, that we are all human and we are all in it together. By your words, I can assume you don’t have much respect for the natural wonders of the world which human beings owe everything to. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to have cities and technology and even light. I just feel sorry for you.

      • John Cedar

        Honestly, I’m not angered by your words either. I’m actually happy for you. If you take some solace in your sanctimony and condescending comments and that is what gets you through the night, then more power too you. Everything’s zen, everything’s zen…I don’t think so…

  • thequietkid10

    Getting up north to see the Milky way is on my bucket list. Even in the relatively rural upstate New York, (outside of Buffalo) there is too much light. Does anyone know how far I should go to see the stars? Adirondacks? north of Toronto? northern PA?

    • JobExperience

      Might as well visit Iceland and see the Aurora Borealis too.
      I went with Grady and Gladiola Howard (working on documentary)the Winter of 2009. (Not as cold or costly as you might assume.) Nowadays you might consider staying. In the USA, look where the telescope observatories are located and go there.

      • thequietkid10

        LOL, I might have to wait another 30 years before that happens.

      • HonestDebate1

        Grady Lee Howard and I go back years and years on various blogs. He had a home not far from me in Dallas, NC but I never met him. I think he hates me but I always had a profound respect for him and his intellect. I did find him to be quite bitter because of his dwarfism and it actually pained me a bit because I felt it was misplaced, but what do I know? He used to imply that he was in poor health and his days were numbered. The last time I saw him on this blog it turned out to be Gladiola. She hates me even more. I kind of miss him and his rants about the oligarchy. Is he still around?

        What about the figgers? I occasionally see familiar names like Jack Martin and others.

  • Emily4HL

    On of my favorite college memories is taking the telescopes out during a multi-day power outage in Saratoga Springs, NY. It’s not normally a good place for stargazing, and the power outage otherwise very irritating, but the stars were incredible.

  • debhulbh

    When I travel home to Ireland as I have a few times this year already… with one more trip planned for Oct. (TG). It is there in the rural countryside that I go out and SEE the stars most brilliantly.
    Rural Ireland….thats where you get to see and feel the night, be transported into space. Lie back and enjoy.
    To know the dark….go back to your roots…..:)
    The light in me sees the light in you…

  • Michiganjf

    As every amateur astronomer knows, 70% or more of light pollution is from street lights, which use ionized sodium or mercury vapor to produce light,

    Telescope filters, which block just the narrow bands of sodium and mercury emission, allow most light pollution to be negated, in terms of dark sky viewing.

    Perhaps “night glasses” could be developed…. something like sunglasses, these glasses would be filtered just to block out sodium and mercury vapor lights… then people might be able to see more stars from the city!

    • Michiganjf

      The Yellow-orange street lights are sodium vapor, the bluish street lights are mercury vapor lights.

  • JBK007

    The most stunning skies I’ve experienced have been in the middle of the desert and the ocean. Part of the issue in the USA is that so many buildings keep their lights on at night…. massive waste of energy, and major contributor to the light pollution problem.

  • NoCoNYSky

    The Adirondacks are among the darkest places in the eastern US. We can see the Milky Way easily!! So we’re developing the Adirondack Public Observatory (apobservatory.org) so we can share the wonders of our dark sky with others.

  • stillin

    We live on the northern border of N.Y.and Canada, Massena NY and we could not see the meteor’s due to cloud cover, unless it disapated in the middle of the night…so , my daughter lives in Tucson Az where there are NO STREELIGHTS. Observatory out there needs dark…why can’t other towns and cities do that? I wonder why my little town can’t? The nighttime sky and quietness are going to be wanted commodities in the very near future…

  • Ray in VT

    It is pretty dark out where I am, although not totally dark. It is a quite nice thing to be able to go out at night and look up and see the stars and planets in all of their wonder. I once lived in a city where we could not see the stars, and it was a bit disturbing to us country folk who were used to darkness.

  • markC

    I think my comment didn’t go through, but the point I wanted to make is that looking up to the stars of the sky should be like looking at the gems and jewels of a treasure chest! It’s true!!!

  • Phyllis

    My husband and I go camping in Maidstone, Vermont each summer. Besides looking forward to hearing the loons on the lake, we look forward to looking at the night sky. It is so crystal clear we can see the milky way. Absolutely stunning! This past weekend we saw three shooting stars in the space of 1/2 hour. It was magical. We hated to go back to our tent site to call it a night. Love it!

  • hellokitty0580

    I grew up in Connecticut in the 1990s and even then, I could see the stars at night. I remember starring up at the stars outside in the winter time and thinking about exactly what Paul said: Who was I? What would I do in my lifetime? And who was the person I would grow up to be? After living in NYC and Boston for the past several years, I miss the stars very much. Walking through Times Square at night is a depressing experience for me. It’s like daytime at night and it really takes something away from the human experience- the unknown, mystery, wonder…

    When I was in undergrad, I studied abroad in Ghana and I went running outside a rural village at night. The sky was beautiful. Fantastic. It brought me back to my childhood and made me feel that the world was greater than anything I could imagine. And even though that might be a scary idea for some people, it was comforting to me.

  • NoCoNYSky

    The Adirondacks are designated to be “Forever Wild” and I consider the night sky to be THE WILDERNESS ABOVE. A deeper wilderness than any on Earth!

  • jim_thompson

    Growing up in Massachusetts just north of Boston in the 1960s and 70s we would routinely take trips to northern New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Those night time skies were so vivid, bright and full of sights. Living in Boston for decades I forgot those skies. Now living in South Carolina-even though not that far from Charlotte,NC, the night sky is indeed vivid. I can see constellations I haven’t seen for years. I have noticed over the past ten years living here that the sightings in the sky decrease as the development increases. I do know that plant and crop life has been affected in a negative way from the lack of bright days and dark nights.

  • Gordon Green

    Does the guest know approximately what the energy savings would be from turning off commercial lights at night country-wide? It seems this could reduce carbon dioxide emissions as well as light pollution.

  • MarkVII88

    I live in Western VT, off a dirt road on a point that juts out into Lake Champlain where the residents are a mix of year-round and seasonal camps. I count myself lucky that there isn’t any light pollution in my neighborhood (if you can call it that) and I can venture down to the water on a clear night to see the stars or a lightning storm over the Green Mountains. The brightest things we can see are the glow over the horizon of Burlington to the south and Dannemora State Penitentiary in NY across the lake to the West.

  • nj_v2

    Stars, schmarz. I work hard for my money and it’s my right to light up my mini-estate with glowing reindeer and strings of bulbs in December, or train mini-spotlights on my McMansion to remind everyone of my superior taste and status.

    First Big Gubmnit socialists take away my incandescent light bulbs, and now this. What’s next?

    • HonestDebate1

      It wasn’t the big gubmnit socialist who took away your incandescent lights. It was Bush, a big gubmnit capitalist.

    • hellokitty0580

      Well, I really hope the money you work hard for makes up for the void that makes you crave status and superiority.

    • skelly74

      I suggest you turn down your lights on you McMansion and let some of our more “curious” neighbors..uh..explore your compound and sample the superior taste of your property…of course it would be better if you shut your lights off while your away so our “neighbors” can concentrate on your wares at their own pace…its the decent thing to do.

      As for Christmas decorations…leave the bulbs and Rudolf in the box…just one spotlight on your enormous lighted tree so our “neighbors” will know exactly where your tastes lie.

    • SlackerInc

      I’m pretty sure this is satire and the other responders didn’t catch it.

  • Kate

    It seems to me an easy solution to household’s leaving lights on for security is to use motion sensor lights ~ if there’s something moving they’ll have light; if there’s nothing out there, there’s no need for light.

  • James Hartford

    I think there is a huge disconnect with the nighttime sky in part because so many people never go out at night- they simply stay in and watch TV. It also might explain why they have such inexplicable fear of darkness…

    • hellokitty0580

      Maybe we also fear the darkness and the stars because it makes us pause to reflect and most people can deal with that.

      • Mari McAvenia

        Do you mean, “cannot deal with that”? If so, I concur. I have never feared the darkness, personally, it’s the artificial security lighting EVERYWHERE that gives me the creeps.

        • hellokitty0580

          Oh yes! Typo! I meant, “cannot deal with that.” I find some much artificial light depressing and in just the way the light is artificial so is the sense of security it gives people.

        • skelly74

          If you turn it off…they will come!

  • dpeel

    I live in a small town in Vermont where many of the children in my neighborhood grow up in unsafe housing surrounded by cigarette smoke, alcohol, drugs and family strife with poor access to nutritious food and adequate healthcare. Stars would seem to be somewhat down the line. I think this is typical of many Americans lack of understanding of the increasing inequality of life experience in this country.

    • http://www.facebook.com/larryfiehn Larry Fiehn

      Effective lighting can easily be had without contributing to light pollution. It’s a mater of design, and it’s pretty easy to accomplish.

  • malkneil

    The fungus he’s talking about is likely the Jack-O-Lantern mushroom.

    • malkneil

      Picture of the gills in the dark.

    • stillin

      Thank you for showing us that’s so beautiful,and mystical!

  • http://www.facebook.com/larryfiehn Larry Fiehn

    Thalnk you, thank you for this program.

  • Tommy Engelhardt

    How do we resolve the diametrically opposed views on the human right to darkness, as is discussed in this program, and what others would call the right to light? There are sincere humanitarian efforts to bring light to remote and desolate areas of India, for example, so that shop owners can keep their businesses open later in an effort to support their families.

    Additionally, can anyone comment on the psychological comfort of light in deep darkness?

  • http://www.facebook.com/larryfiehn Larry Fiehn
  • Sheila Fay

    We were recently on the Big Island of Hawaii where the whole island legislates the night light to protect the viewing on Mauna Loa. It was amazing to see all the stars, especially up at the Mauna Loa viewing station. It was also a challenge to drive at night with so few lights. Made me slow down, not a bad thing! Out lives are so frantic, so fast paced, it’s not good for our health. Slowing down is what night is for and artificial light has erased much if that so it reinforces our frantic pace. Less light, more quiet would be good for all of us.

  • Robert Little

    I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, at a time when some of the outlying regions of the city were still fairly rural. In the southern end of the city, near the county line, and the night sky at that time was amazing. The rich band of the Milky Way was unmistakable, many of those faint “fuzzies” (actually clusters of stars and nebula) could be discerned. Even as late as 1981, when we lived in less rural section of the city, near an airport in fact, you could still see things like the Orion Nebula, just on the edge of naked eye, and the Pleiades were just a little box full of jewels.
    In Jacksonville, you are now hard pressed to see anything like this.
    I’ve worked as an astronomy educator, and am too aware of what we’ve lost. During the recent Perseid meteor shower, I had an opportunity to setup an impromptu viewing party north of New Haven, and the truly dark sky was directly over head, where the Cygnus Star Cloud (a larger faint fuzzy) was just on the edge of visibility. The horizons, especially to the south and towards New Haven, Connecticut, was completely obscured. Sadly, this is still better than what Jacksonville currently enjoys.

  • MarkVII88

    I’ve never seen a night sky like the one I saw while spending a semester abroad studying ecology in Australia. The most majestic sky was one I saw while in the rainforest from a tree-top tower in Lamington National Park near the border between Queensland and New South Wales. There really is absolutely no light out there.

    • stillin

      I once read the view of the stars from there is absolutely breathtaking…it was from Australia …it was years ago but I always think of it…

  • Bob

    The most noble of all human traits is the constant impulse to throw off all things “human” and all things “natural” …. if we want to see the Milky Way then let’s get out there and see it, via technology and progress, not sweet sentimental memories of a time meant to pass …. wandering in natural darkness is a comfortbale shroud, but it’s nothing we should program our habitat by. The desire to return to primal times assumes primal times were marked by anything but brutality. Our survival as a species depends not on pretty views of distant stars, but by finding one we can use.

  • http://www.PsychicServices-FrankMichel.com/ Psychic Services Frank Michel

    When diving north from Virginia Beach after crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel, you’re on the Eastern Shore (DelMarVa peninsula). Look up and it’s a blast from the past (1960s). Billions of stars — or is that trillions of stars? — illuminate the sky since Route 13 is lit up by headlights, an occasional gas station, and magnificent starlight. Until you see it, you won’t believe what the “real” night sky looks like.

  • BeckyinVT

    I appreciate this topic and agree there’s too much light pollution across the globe. That being said I bristle at the guest’s suggestion that someone must go out west to see the milky way. I can see the milky way in my own front yard any night it’s not cloudy. I can see the milky way at least 50% of the time even from my parent’s house just 1 hour outside of Boston.

    Making the night sky something that one MUST TRAVEL to see only makes it more exclusive and goes further to alienate those who live in bright areas. The guy living in Georgia could probably drive to the mountains and see the stars – don’t make stars something only rich people can see!

  • cma0651

    how far does light pollution travel?

  • Ruth Platner

    Dark skies are available in Charlestown Rhode Island. Check out the facebook page for Frosty Drew Observatory at https://www.facebook.com/FrostyDrewObservatory

  • Mari McAvenia

    Hearing from the young man who has never seen the Milky Way made me feel very sad. I grew up looking at the dark night sky, memorizing the names of the constellations, enjoying meteor showers like most kids enjoy a favorite TV show. Now, it’s all gone.
    The eerie blue glow emanating from every window after dark, the sickly yellow glare of sodium vapor bulbs in parking lots without any cars on them, the headlights and taillights of autos on the roadways at all hours, all of this ugliness has replaced my beloved stars.
    I mourn not just for myself, but for that young man, for his kids and for all the nocturnal critters who have no place else to go.

  • thequietkid10

    While I appreciate the hour, I bristle at the idea that we need government to impose darkness on all of us, and if only those evil electric lobbyist would get out of way, everything would be better.

    Make the case on a person to person, town board to town board level.

  • Ruth Platner

    Have you tried Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown RI? Our town is on the ocean, and the observatory is surrounded by a National Wildlife Refuge and a town park. We have a large percentage of open space and a dark sky ordinance that covers commercial and government lighting. We are only 3 hours from NYC. The observatory is open every Friday night when skies are clear. It’s not as dark as wilderness, but one of the darkest places along the east coast beaches. There are images at https://www.facebook.com/FrostyDrewObservatory

  • WorriedfortheCountry

    The Milky Way on a clear, light-free, moonless night is certainly a beautiful site to behold.

  • Ben Schenck

    Hey Tom – When a caller starts to cry (39:55), I think you should keep him on the line and let him finish. It may be a little embarrassing, but that’s real! Especially when the show is about losing something important. Natural darkness!

    • BenGjones

      I think Tom may have brought it to a close to avoid shaming Roy, though I would have loved to hear more from him too.

  • Sean Farrow

    I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, and still live less than an hour away from the city centre. The urban sprawl has certainly taken it’s toll on the dark skies I remember as a child. On a positive note an hour’s drive north, south, east or west of the city brings you into darkness so complete it’s incredible. 45 minutes south from my house brings you to the Mornington Peninsula National Park, a spectacular piece of coastline of Bass Strait, the body of water between the mainland and Tasmania. I’ve, on several occasions photographed the perfect milky way and even managed to snap the Aurora Australis, all within sight of Australia’s 2nd largest city.



  • Jacob Arnon

    I am sorry people, but having grown up with one light bulb per room, I prefer artificial light to darkness. I ssume that so do most inner ciuty people.

    Besides, light too has its poetry if you only knew how to look.

  • http://goinglikesixty.com GoingLikeSixty

    I live in Costa Rica. Even so, my dark night is influenced by “security” lights and road lights. Escaping those means I still can see the glow of San Jose on the horizon. But at least I have an option of getting to a darker spot. Sad that many kids don’t have that opportunity. I remember the dark Michigan summer nights with the same nostalgia as Tom and callers… http://goinglikesixty.com/2013/08/i-remember-the-milky-way/

  • TheDailyBuzzherd

    You want energy independence? Then start using energy wisely – when it’s really needed. Shut off them lights!!! Home Repo, you don’t need ‘em on all night for advertising. John Smith, you don’t need Xmas lights on during July. Be like me … Shut. Them. All. Off.


    The Energy Nazi

  • nicholas

    man keeps blinding himself! in so many ways! we keep taking away US! what we are made of We are made of stars murder terrible and sad

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