Preserving Heritage With Dark Skies: How Astronomy Connects Us All

This post is part of a series of posts to commemorate International Dark Sky Week (19th-26th April 2020), dedicated to celebrating the night sky. Our lighting practices don’t only affect astronomy – they can impact other important things too. I’ll dive into some of these, and a few things you can do to make a difference.

Image credit: Nathan Anderson

In all the progress our species has made, it’s important for us not to lose sight of where we came from. Connecting with our history can ground us and give us a sense of place and perspective. The night sky is perhaps the oldest part of our shared heritage as humans. Reducing light pollution can preserve the natural darkness of the sky, and is an important but overlooked aspect of heritage conservation.

The night sky doesn’t look anything to us like it did to our ancestors. Light pollution from cities and human activities has diluted the spectacle of the unpolluted night sky to a dull fog, where only the brightest stars can be seen. Anyone who has been far enough from artificial lighting can attest to the beauty and depth of the stars, galaxies, comets, meteors, and planets that decorate the night. The night sky links us to our ancestors – they saw the same wonders in the sky, and it inspired rich myths, legends and stories about our origins and fate. Modern science is working to answer the same questions, and it can be comforting to be reminded that these questions connect everyone, across cultures and through time.

Contemplating the starry sky also reminds us that we are infinitesimal parts of a large and mysterious universe. We are united by our shared sky and place in the Universe, and just looking at the stars for a few minutes can instil a sense of perspective and humility in us, reminding us of the fragility and uniqueness of our planet. This is a powerful motivator for environmental conservation and promotion of peace. 

Taking steps to reduce light pollution begins at home. The International Dark Sky Association released a Dark Sky Friendly Home Lighting Assessment in celebration of International Dark Sky Week 2020. The assessment is free and simple, with clear actions to assess and fix the lighting in your home and business. Once you fulfil the criteria, you are qualify for a Dark Sky Friendly Home certificate.

Protecting the night sky from unnecessary light helps us stay connected to our rich shared history. By assessing your individual and immediate relationship to lighting, you are taking an important step towards preserving this heritage.

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