We see far fewer stars in the sky than our ancestors did, according to research from the German Research Center for Geosciences. On average, about 250 stars can be seen in urban areas, but in eighteen years there will be about a hundred. This has to do with light pollution.
Thus, the so-called “celestial glow” ensures that fewer and fewer stars can be seen, and is caused, among other things, by the use of more efficient LED lighting. And according to astrophysics professor Vincent Ecke of Leiden University, it’s not easy to get used to it. “The human eye doesn’t work that way,” he says. “The eye is mainly sensitive to contrasts. This is why we can see so well during the day – with plenty of light – and at night.
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He argues that this asymmetry causes a major problem. “If there is a lot of light around you – in this case light pollution – you simply see fewer stars.”
But Icke specifically advocates that there are no places too dark in the Netherlands to be able to better watch the stars. “You may be wondering what difference it makes, a few stars more or less, but everyone wonders what lies beyond those stars,” he continues. We are part of a universe, and looking up at that beautiful sky does so much. Go look at the darkened sky for an hour, you don’t know what’s going on.
According to Icke, turning off the lights completely—also in the context of energy saving and sustainability—is not an option. Less bright street lighting will be worked on. “You can design it better, for example, but lighting in cities and highways is also a matter of safety,” he concludes. But engineers are very smart. They could definitely develop better luminaires to light things up. For example, the lights that go out on the highway when there are no cars on the road.
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