Land Matters: our friend the night sky
Enjoy dark skies and the Perseid meteor shower at the Songs & Stars event Aug.12
Colorado Headwaters Land Trust
When was the last time you went outside and looked up at the sky? When was the last time you did that at night?
I’ve always loved finding constellations. It speaks to the creativity of humans, to find shapes in the stars at night. Orion was the first one I learned in elementary school, but I soon could find the Big and Little Dipper, the cross of the Swan and others. Each one is unique and has its own story.
In nearly every culture the stars have been significant. Constellations and celestial bodies have been used to determine the passage of time, to explain inexplicable phenomena and to foretell events. Our relationship with the stars and planets has been central to the development of civilizations and cultures, and continues to be in different ways.
We still have much love for the night sky, and in recent decades we’ve added a new appreciation – its importance to the global ecosystem.
The natural world is a network of relationships, and the night sky plays a major role in those relationships. The dark backdrop, the lights of stars and planets, and the prominent position of the moon all contribute to the goings-on of creatures big and small, just like with humans.
Birds migrate by the moon. Harbor seals orient themselves with lodestars. Dung beetles move with the Milky Way.
The night sky is also protection: There can be fewer threats at night and the darkness provides cover. And there are plenty of nocturnal animals that live their lives at night aside from migrating. Fireflies, for example, use their flashing lights to attract mates, but the light is small and hard to see. Their mating dance requires a dark sky.
One of the greatest threats to these creatures is light pollution, or excess artificial light.
With the invention of the electric light came the plague of light pollution. While it can be worse in dense areas like in towns and cities, any human development can increase artificial light, affecting everyone and everything who relies on the darkness, and the natural lights, of the night.
A recent study by the international citizen science project Globe at Night shows that from 2011 to 2021, the night sky across North America and Europe got 9.6% brighter every year. The trend likely hasn’t slowed; light pollution continues to have widespread effects across the world.
It’s not all lost, though – there are simple things we can do to slow the trend ourselves, especially in places with dark skies already, like Grand County. Individual actions include just turning off lights that don’t need to be on and making sure indoor lighting doesn’t spill out of the windows at night. If an outdoor light must be on, we can alter them to be less harmful to nocturnal animals.
Land conservation defends the darkness, too. By reducing fragmentation and unnecessary development, conserving a landscape creates large areas with unopposed dark skies, reducing the spread of light pollution and the dangers it brings to animals and natural systems.
These actions alone won’t stop the light from creeping over the Continental Divide, or even from spilling out of our towns in the county, but places like Grand County are the dark sky refuges many animals – and humans – need.
When it stops raining one of these nights, go outside and look up. What do you see?
The third annual Songs & Stars event by Colorado Headwaters Land Trust with the Grand County Astronomy Club is happening on Aug. 12, at 6 p.m. at the Grand Lake Lodge. Join us to learn about conservation and the night sky, at the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Registration is required. For more information and to buy tickets, please visit our website at, ColoradoHeadwatersLandTrust.org.
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