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Night Skies as a Scientific Resource

Angie Richman calibrates a telescope
Calibrating a telescope for a monitoring session at Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park. Photo by NPS/Neal Herbert.

A clear and dark night sky has afforded astronomy the opportunity to make astounding discoveries and engage citizenry in science and evoke a spirit of space exploration. Light pollution reduces the contrast between the sky and an astronomical object of interest, resulting in telescopes being unable to see or photograph fainter and more distant objects. This has been a major concern for professional astronomers for the last few decades (International Astronomical Union).

First-hand observations of the heavens were critical to the Age of Enlightenment, allowing Newton to write the laws of gravity, Galileo to place our sun at the center of the solar system, and Einstein to imagine the fabric of the universe. These discoveries, in turn, had a palpable influence on culture, religion, and art. Today, space is still the frontier of science, enticing children's interest in science and concealing some of the greatest questions humans have ever asked.

Naturally dark wild lands also provide natural laboratories, where natural processes and rhythms can evolve unimpeded. They yield scientific insights into our complex natural world, and allow natural physical processes to churn unabated. In such a landscape, artificial light is inappropriate and potentially harmful.

Such a valuable resource should not be revered solely by professional astronomers. Perhaps everyone has a right to starlight, to follow in the footsteps of great scientists or simply forge their own path by asking their own questions of the cosmos.


International Astronomical Union - Commission 50

International Initiative in Defense of the Quality of the Night Sky as Mankind's Scientific, Cultural, and Environmental Threat

Last Updated: April 20, 2012