"The age-old adage of ‘shooting for the stars’ is gradually losing its appeal, as the stars themselves are becoming increasingly obscured to the human eye. A new term, ‘noctalgia’, has been coined by astronomers to encapsulate the collective disappointment and grief over the loss of our once clear night sky. This phenomenon, a direct consequence of our advancing civilization, can be attributed predominantly to an insidious form of pollution – light pollution. As we strive to illuminate our world for the sake of safety, security, and convenience, we are inadvertently casting a shroud over the celestial bodies that have been our silent companions through the eons.
Ironically, our efforts towards energy efficiency have exacerbated the problem. With the advent of long-lasting, cost-effective LED lighting, cities around the world are ablaze with artificial light throughout the night, with little regard for the cost to our night skies. This relentless illumination is not confined to urban settings alone; the rapid growth in satellite communication systems, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, has resulted in an increasing number of satellites orbiting our planet, reflecting sunlight and further brightening the night sky. These developments have left our darkest skies, even in the most remote corners of the world, 10% brighter than they were just fifty years ago."
Noctalgia: The Rising Grief Over Losing Our Night Sky
Humanity is gradually losing its access to the night sky, a phenomenon that has led to the coinage of a new term, "noctalgia," or "sky grief." It refers to the emotional pain associated with this loss, inflicted mainly by our own actions.
A New Kind of Pollution
In addition to air, water, and atmospheric pollution, humanity has introduced another form of contamination: light pollution. The majority of this comes from ground-based sources. While humans have been creating light for ages through campfires and lanterns, the extent of light produced through electricity is staggering. We illuminate our offices, streets, parking lots, and homes, often excessively and without consideration of the light wasted or spilled into the sky.
Ironically, the transition to efficient LED lighting has often aggravated this issue. Because these lights are cheap to run and last a long time, many city and building planners leave them on throughout the night without considering the cost or impact.
The Impact of Satellite Communication
Recent leaps in satellite communication, such as SpaceX’s Starlink system, have significantly contributed to the problem. These satellites not only obstruct deep-space astronomical observations but also reflect sunlight from their solar arrays, increasing sky brightness globally. Studies suggest our darkest skies, located in the most remote regions, are now 10% brighter than they were 50 years ago – a problem that continues to worsen.
Cultural and Environmental Consequences
The loss of the night sky carries tangible and cultural impacts. We are losing a rich tradition of human cultural knowledge, as diverse cultures have historically used the sky as a springboard for imagination, creating myths and constellations. Today, city dwellers are fortunate to see even the brightest stars, let alone constellations.
This loss also impacts wildlife. Night-adapted species are affected as the night sky is no longer much darker than the daytime sky. This disruption to their circadian rhythms makes them vulnerable to predation and other survival threats.
Thankfully, there are ways to address noctalgia, similar to how we can combat climate change. Efforts have been made globally to establish dark-sky reserves, with surrounding communities pledging to abstain from further light pollution. Other initiatives involve working with community and business leaders to install night-friendly lighting.
However, addressing satellite-based pollution requires international cooperation and pressure on companies like SpaceX to be better stewards of the skies. With concerted effort and commitment, we can hope for a future where noctalgia is a thing of the past.
In our quest for progress and technological advancements, we often overlook the unintended consequences of our actions. Noctalgia serves as a stark reminder of this oversight. As we continue to lose our connection with the night sky, we not only lose part of our cultural heritage but also disrupt the natural world. The challenge lies in balancing our needs with the preservation of natural resources. This balance requires a concerted global effort and a renewed commitment to being better stewards of our planet and the skies above.