When did you last see the Milky Way?

When did you last see the Milky Way?

 

By Bob Difley

Most security lamps as well as general lighting in campgrounds throw too much light out in all directions, including skyward, effectively canceling out the night sky and the carpet of glittering Milky Way stars and the imaginative constellations scattered about the universe.

That is one reason why I have boondocked as much as I have. I can use a flashlight if I have to. I don’t need – or want – nighttime security lights. And even in some boondocking locations, like Long Term Visitor Areas that are more crowded than the open desert, I’m dismayed when I look out my motorhome’s window or step outside at night to see the stars and all I can see is what is illuminated by my neighbors’ porch lights.

It’s not just me acting curmudgeonly that feels disrupted. Nocturnal animals are frequently disoriented by city lights, such as when migratory birds lose their way without the ability to see the stars, and leatherback sea turtles emerge from the Gulf to lay their eggs on sandy beaches and are then disoriented by lights from beachside developments.

Not only does light pollution affect nocturnal critters but it is also “threatening astronomical facilities, ecologically sensitive habitats, our energy consumption, and our human heritage,” according to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

“Of all the pollutions we face, light pollution is perhaps the most easily remedied,” writes Verlyn Klinkenborg in Our Vanishing Night in the November 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine. “Recent calculations suggest that two-thirds of humanity lives under skies polluted with light, and one-fifth can no longer see the Milky Way.”

If you are lucky enough to be able to snowbird for the winter in the southwestern deserts, you will be able to find many boondocking locations – and some BLM campgrounds – with few lights and bright star-sprinkled, non-polluted, clear skies. And after your eyes adjust to the darkness you will be amazed at how well you can see – not only a sky full of stars, but you just might spot a nocturnal kangaroo rat, kit fox, or a wily coyote on the hunt.

Oh, and turn off your porch light.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.

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3 thoughts on “When did you last see the Milky Way?

  1. Doug Grove

    As an amateur astronomer, dark skies are important to me. I travel monthly to Cherry Springs State Park, near Galeton, PA., for the dark skies.
    We just recently returned from a trip to Yellowstone, and then Glenrock, WY, for the solar eclipse. Considering how crowded the campground in Yellowstone was, the skies were relatively dark since the only lights for the driveways in the campground were about 3 feet above the ground and pointed down. Very few campers had their porch, or decorative, lights on. It was nice to walk around the campground at night and be able to see the Milky Way.
    People just don;t understand what they are missing by having “insecurity” lights on. And the money they are wasting in energy.

  2. Janice Kibbe

    We were camping in Durham Maine this past weekend anxious to see the Perseid meteor showers. Sadly it was too cloudy on 8/12 to see them but 8/13 was nice and clear. We saw quite a few leftover meteors overhead, however, our viewing was impacted by all the outdoor lighting campers hang around their site, from their awnings, under their campers, outdoor security lighting and even blinking/flashing light shows. Turn off the lights and look up! You’ll be surprised what you might see!

    1. Janice Kibbe

      Oops, forgot to add a link to a great video about light pollution. City Dark on PBS is an excellent movie. Here’s the link: http://www.pbs.org/pov/citydark/

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