Night Lights

Van Gogh, Starry Night

The area so dark, I could watch the champagne fizz of shooting stars from my bedroom window; catch a glimpse of the harvest moon while brushing my teeth. Every evening, the night pressed in against my windows in a way that felt visceral, like a velvet blanket tucking me in.

                                                ~ Andrea Stanley

Every year, billions of birds migrate north in the spring and south in the fall, the majority of them flying at night, navigating with the night sky. However, as they pass over big cities on their way, they can become disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow, often causing them to collide with buildings or windows.

                                                ~ Corryn Wetzel

My small town is bordered to the west by the face of the Front Range of the Rockies and on the east by two mesas that give us a sense of separation from the encroaching Denver Metro area. The night sky to the east is dimmed by the reflected glow of the metro area, but to the west we can see the stars uninterrupted, except for the looming presence of the mountain front.

Locally, it’s not too bright except when the nearby college football stadium is hosting a game or event. Even from two blocks away, the racks of lights shining down on the stadium are bright enough to be annoying and obscure the night sky. Luckily, the lights are generally turned off by 10:00pm; however, that means we have to stay up past our bedtime if we want to spend time with the stars.

Andrea Stanley writes, “One particular floodlight ripples out a harsh, chlorine-white light from dusk to dawn. The omnipresent light giving the sense that someone is always there. If I sit on one edge of my couch, the bulb shines in my face like a spotlight.”

“More than being a thorn, there is a name for this: light trespass. It is a term to describe a form of light pollution where illumination — from a neighbor or a business or street lighting — spills onto one’s property in a way that creates a disturbance … In addition to light trespass, another type of light pollution is glare: when a bright object shines into our eyes, causing our night vision to become so overwhelmed we can no longer see faint objects.”

She quotes Astronomer Tyler Nordgren, “To feel awe at the night sky means you have felt this smallness or this grandness or this interconnectedness to the world around you … If you never look up because there’s nothing there to see, suddenly you’ve shrunk the universe — this thing that is millions of light years across — down to just you, your neighborhood, and your own problems. It shrinks us and it shrinks us in a depressing way.”

She continues, “It’s not just my dark sky disappearing, but everyone’s. According to a 2016 study published in the journal Science Advances, 83 percent of the world’s population lives under light-polluted skies, with one-third of humans unable to see the Milky Way at all.” … Ashley Wilson, director of conservation for the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), told her, “Not even just our use of light, but the excessive use of it. There was a report published earlier this year by the Department of Energy which stated that 99 percent of the light that we emit has no clear purpose. It boggles my mind. My analogy is with water. You would never want to leave your sprinklers on all night in the hope it is going to water a specific plant in a pot. Why are we doing the same with our light?”

And more, “Several studies have even shown an increased risk of cancer for those exposed to artificial light … Entire ecosystems suffer, too, including bird migration patterns, turtle nesting, even the rest cycle of trees … There has not been one species that has been studied that has not been affected by light pollution.”

As a kid and teen, I remember just sitting out in the dark, enjoying the night air and pondering the universe. In spite of the A/C, being outside helped to cool off the day’s vexes and problems. Sometimes we could see or hear a nighthawk, but we could always see bats.

These days, in Colorado, I can catch a glimpse of the bats at night fluttering between the trees and rooftops, the canopy of stars overhead, and maybe, the moon rising over the mesa. For some reason, it makes me feel particularly safe.

For that moment, everything is in its place and all is right with the world. 

Additional information:

Andrea Stanley, Stop Ruining Starry Nights, July 15, 2022, New York Times

Corryn Wetzel, Lights Out, Spring 2021, Audubon Magazine,

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