At the Midnight Hour

With all this talk of air pollution I would like you to consider another pollution, also found in London – light pollution.

When I was young the Milky Way was easily visible at night above our heads. In fact, I even managed to gain a boy scouts astronomy badge.

Today the moon is barely visible and during a lunar eclipse, the glorious red hue is almost washed out.

This video by Nicholas Buer shows how the Universe could look above London without light pollution. Here city shots were captured during the day and processed to appear to be night, then night sky shots from a dark sky location, taken at the correct latitude to London merged to give these spectacular views.

But there is a serious issue here, apart from the aesthetics. When working nights I would regularly hear blackbird song near petrol stations, they were confused as to the time of day; clearly, without sleep, their life expectancy would be impaired.

For it has been proved that artificial light is having a detrimental effect upon the natural world. Evidence shows that artificial light at night (‘ALAN’) interferes with insect development: movement, foraging and their reproductive success; and is one of the factors contributing to the 75 per cent loss of insect life over the last 30 years. Light pollution has also been shown to affect fish, birds (as with the blackbird), and mammals.

As you might expect, nocturnal creatures are badly affected, just try to recall the last time you saw a hedgehog.

Near cities, cloudy skies are now hundreds, or even thousands of times brighter than they were 200 years ago. We are only beginning to learn what a drastic effect this has had on nocturnal ecology.

Christopher Kyba, light pollution research scientist.

Featured image: London Night Sky Tower Blocks by Stephan Guttinger (1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

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