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  • Shameera Sarwar

‘Starlight, star bright, grant me my one wish tonight’

Unfortunately, stars won’t be able to grant wishes from now on. As there is an increase in artificial lighting, the number of stars visible to the naked eye is declining. According to the study, published in the ‘Journal Science’ by Dr. Christopher Kyba and his colleagues, revealed that the foundation of this problem is ‘Sky glow’ from artificial lighting. Moreover, the brightness coming from glow due to artificial lighting has been rising since 2011. From the study, trends indicated that the sky got brighter by 9.6% per year from 2011 to 2022. Artificial glow of the night sky is a type of light pollution.

In 2010, many of the outdoor lights were replaced by light emitting diodes (LEDs). The impact of light emitting diodes (LEDs) on sky glow is still unclear. Some researchers predicted that it can be harmful because of spectral changes; others said that it can be beneficial. 

Since 2003, Samantha and other astronauts from The European Space Agency have been taking images of Earth at night with a digital camera to understand the extent of light pollution. Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel, a researcher fellow from UK’s University of Exeter, illustrated ‘as seen from space, the resulting image looks like a cancer scan or a fluorescent spider’s web that keeps growing’. Which leads us to the conclusion that light pollution will increase the sky glow even more in upcoming years. 

There has been a marked increase in light pollution in Italy and the United Kingdom. Whereas countries like Germany and Austria show a less remarkable difference in spectral emission. Furthermore, Milan was the first city in Europe, who converted their streetlights to white LEDs. In the UK, half of all the public streetlights were also replaced in 2019. ‘By the end of this decade, all Europe could look white from space,’ says Alejandro. LED lighting can reduce energy consumption and improve vision at night. So, we can have a sense of safety, but still overall emissions have intensified. The European space agency named it the ‘lighting paradox.’ Means cheaper and better lighting with lighting pollution and increase in society’s addiction to light. Hundreds of monuments and public buildings are no longer illuminated in several European cities due to the looming energy crisis. Which results in Urban nights in Europe getting a little darker. 

Sky glow impacts humans negatively. Alejandro explains, ‘when we turn the streetlights on, we deprive our body of the hormone melatonin and disrupt our natural sleep pattern.’ Melatonin is produced by pineal gland; an enhanced amount of light during nights inhibits melatonin production from pineal gland. The pineal gland releases a plethora of melatonin during darkness. Melatonin helps in the timing of circadian rhythms and sleep. Lack of melatonin results in lack of sleep. Which will result in memory issues and mental health problems. 

Light pollution is also influencing the behaviour of nocturnal animals as illuminated in the study linking with local insects. Artificial light at night (ALAN) is an increasingly recognized threat to insect population and biodiversity. Insect life cycle is negatively affected by night lighting, as it inhibits adult activity; increases the number of predation; and disrupts reproduction. Additionally, some studies are also highlighting the severe impact of light pollution on insect pollination. 

Dr. Christopher Kyba said that there will be improvement in light pollution in upcoming years because urban centres have replaced lighting with more energy efficient sources. But study by the agency has revealed that low-priced LEDs are also contributing to light pollution. Dr. Kyba insisted ‘It doesn’t need to be this way. There’s a lot of room for improvement- if you light more carefully, you should be able to reduce sky glow, whilst still lighting the ground. And remember that light pollution is wasted energy. We are continuing to put this energy into the atmosphere and maybe that’s not what we should be doing.’

Personally, I think we should follow Dr. Kyba’s advice and try to use light more carefully. As we are going through an energy crisis in the United Kingdom, then we should beam our houses, streets, apartments, malls, showrooms, etc. with more efficient energy lights. Which will help us in reducing light pollution; as well as getting a good night sleep with normal levels of melatonin; and protecting our ecosystem by saving biodiversity.’ As we are living in an interdependent society which suggests that all the species contribute to the ecosystem. If one is getting impacted, humans will be automatically affected. Let’s begin to use more energy efficient products from now on. In order to save our planet.

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