Tag Archives: Dark Sky

A Sky Without Stars: Light Pollution & Human Health

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

The daylight hours stretch and yawn – extending themselves into the blue edges of the night. I awaken to stars and remind myself that soon they will change – my navigable position on this planet under a glittering sky. This intergenerational knowledge passed into my mind as a child is far older than anyone in my family can remember. My grandfather taught my father and they taught me. Should I ever be lost, wait for nightfall and gain orientation by listening to where the night sky tells you to go. This comfort of belonging and knowing my place in the world is the definition of solace. Cities and light pollution strip me of a knowledge so ingrained in my neurological system I can barely explain with verbal language how I know where to go. I become disoriented.

It took my first trip to the antipodes for me to understand this fully, and not for any reason related to light pollution. Instead, when I stared up into the sky, I failed to orient myself with any landmarks. Gasping for breath in the consuming sea of stars, to gain footing I required the Southern Cross. And even with this point established, it was no Polaris, not in the way I knew or expected. Over my time in New Zealand I gained orientation, at one point finding myself in a forest of glow worms with a full dark sky above. As I traveled elsewhere in the South Pacific, the Southern Cross failed as my anchor.

Having watched and photographed galaxy rises, my back against the earth as it hurdles through space, I ponder the impacts of light pollution on those with celestial navigation as a part of their blood, be it land or sea. Before city lights, for hundreds of thousands of years, humans evolved, watching the stars and orienting ourselves alongside their existences, giving their clusters names. We immortalized warriors, kings, ethical dilemmas, and the foundations of our beliefs in Super Novas, Neutron Stars, White Dwarfs and so many other identified and yet to be identified or understood dots of light filtering through our atmosphere from billions of light years away.

And now we can’t see them. Nor can our children. Nor could many of my peers during their formative years. But what impact is this having on our health?

In December, 2020, the Southern Economic Journal published the first ever study on the link between premature births and light pollution. This showed a 12.9% increased likelihood of preterm birth associated being able to only see 0.25 – 0.33 of stars visible under dark sky conditions. Skyglow, as measured by Walker’s Law (the sky-glow intensity from a light source is approximately proportional to the distance raised to the −2.5 power), has a direct impact of fetal health. Premature birth increases the risk of neonatal mortality. Premature birth of a child is closely associated with postpartum depression in mothers.

But this is not the first time researchers have raised concerns about the link between light pollution and impacts to human health. In 2011, the journal Medical Hypotheses published a review article on light pollution’s disruption of circadian rhythm potentially contributing to the rise in obesity. These impaired metabolic processes relate to circadian gene expression conserved through all mammalian species that regulate at least 10% of our genomes, including those of household pets. This article discusses the comparative obesity problems observed in domesticated animals (including horses!) living alongside humans under light pollution conditions. Going into more detail the health impacts of circadian disruption, the article mentions studies on shift work’s impacts on the release of hormones such as insulin independent of lifestyle choices by individuals. Shift work’s negative impacts on health, while linked to light pollution by exclusion of other causes, has additional epidemiological evidence to back it up. Let’s return to that question of gene expression and focus on the metabolic gene clock. Yes. That’s the actual name.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a review Lighting in the Home and Health this month (January 2021). Focusing on the impacts of types of lighting and its impacts on human health they concluded that though not enough studies exist at this time. Their review found suggests insufficient natural lighting increased risks for infectious diseases, injuries, and self-reported depression. While reviewing artificial lighting, they divided the data into multiple categories: fuel based lighting and electric lighting. While fuel based lighting was associated with adverse health from the toxic effects of the burning fuel (asthma, increased risk of respiratory infection, etc) and potential physical injuries, the lighting provided lower self-reported depression with even minimal usage. However, the toxic effects of the burning fuel varied greatly based on the fuel, whereas the increased infection risk remained constant among electric light users. Artificial lights were found to be associated with increased incidence of farsightedness in some children.

The strongest impacts from artificial lighting came from its use after dark, impacting sleep quality and subsequently health. The most notable health impacts from prolonged exposure to artificial light (regardless of lifestyle) at night included primarily metabolic disorders such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dyslipidemia in elderly populations. This raises a concern: are these sensitive populations, indicating a more serious underlying issue the rest of society is experiencing?

In the 1950s the Circadian Resonance Hypothesis was proposed by Pittendrigh and Bruce and published in Nature. This stated that an organism’s overall fitness is proportional with the coupling of its internal circadian rhythms to its surrounding environment. While very few studies exist focusing on the impacts of artificial lights and light pollution on human health, many do exist focusing on the negative impacts on the ecosystem, biodiversity, and wildlife. Need I remind everyone reading this, humans do not exist in an isolated vacuum from the ecosystem and are in fact likely experiencing ill effects much like any other mammalian member, though our niches within that ecosystem may vary.

As I consider my future living in another city where light pollution drowns out the stars leading me home, I begin plotting my respite escapes for the sake of my own health. What more can I do until policies change and we find alternative solutions that let us turn down the lights?


Thanks for taking the time to read my writing! If you enjoyed this essay, please take a moment to like, share, and/or comment. It helps others find it and read the scientific articles I’ve linked.

Galaxy Rise Vs. Moonrise in Adobe Lightroom

In July we stayed at a cabin outside of Salmon, Idaho in a pocket of true dark sky. Before the wildfires started we had the benefit of high clarity photography conditions, giving us the opportunity to witness a “Galaxy Rise” as the Milky Way galaxy came into view after the moon set around midnight/1 am.

Under dark sky conditions, our exposure conditions were kept more constant. We weren’t having to worry about the changing light conditions associated with the moon even though a lot of light is emitted by a light sky. This is more a matter of human perception of light (I have better night vision than Jacob, he still struggles under dark sky conditions) and less a matter of the actual light produced.

The moon is a heck of a lot brighter. We’re talking the difference between a 30 second exposure maximum and a 6-8 second exposure maximum. The Milky Way was visible both during the photography trip in July and the recent hop over to Alberton, Montana to catch the moonrise. The issue is that the moon is so much brighter than many other celestial bodies.

With that in mind, there are techniques for getting around these issues. Dark sky photography has the unique benefit of being able to pick up details that can be missed by the human eye, plus you can take advantage of telephoto and telescoping lenses to capture celestial bodies that could otherwise be missed.

With the moonrise (waning gibbous inside Taurus) with Mars from 5 October 2020, I wanted to mention using Adobe Lightroom as my preferred method of photo editing compared to other photo editors. That said, this is not a free program. It was also all Jacob’s idea to invest in decent photo editing software that wouldn’t piss me off.

*Insert standing ovation to Jacob*

Often times I find that I turn up the “highlights” and “dehaze” tools the most in these pictures when editing all of the long exposure shots from the Canon Rebel.

I mentioned previously when I was giving an example of the moonrise picture edited using Instagram.

Comparing this to what I uncovered in Lightroom is a little stark. That said, Lightroom isn’t perfect. It won’t get rid of the noise that’s the result of us using a camera with limitations associated with the electronics. This is why some photographers use film, then a film scanner, instead of direct digital. There are also dual digital and film cameras that shoot film with a digital back up (though these have tended to have short lived generations on market).

It’s important to note that I don’t “photoshop” – I don’t add details to photos that weren’t captured with the original image.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed these dark sky photos! If you want to see more posts like this, please like, comment, or share.

Thank you for spending time with me today!

If you would like to use any of our photos from this post:

  • For unpaid projects, simply credit us by linking back to this website.
  • For paid projects please send me an e-mail and we can exchange a fair use contract with more details.

Moonrise With Mars

Jacob and I went for a walk last night around the neighborhood and noticed how clear the sky was. Luckily, we live a short drive away from dark sky, so when it’s clear enough with city light pollution that the Milky Way starts to be visible, we hop in the car. Capturing a moonrise with stars and no layering is a difficult challenge. While these aren’t all the pictures from last night, I wanted to share a few of them.

For planning dark sky photography I use a couple websites:

The majority of dark sky locations have insufficient GPS/cell service to use my constellation sky map app, so I can’t recommend it at this time. That’s not a bad thing. Maybe with their next update I’ll include it in another dark sky post. Plus, it was a paid app and I’m currently trying to recommend free services.

5 October 2020 – Early Evening Photography

Source: Astronomy.com Stardome tool

The view that the Stardome tool produces is a bit off since the place where we stood on the surface of the earth is not Milwaukee, but it gave us a bit of an idea of what we were looking at. I hope this helps as a reference guide for some of the photographs below.

For the month of October 2020, Mars is visible to the east in the early evening sky. On 5 October we photographed Mars with a rising 87% waning gibbous moon.

To the north of the moonrise over the mountain crests a cluster of stars is visible. I believe these may be part of the Taurus constellation containing Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster, but it is important to note that I am a novice and that is most certainly washed out by light on the horizon.

Post processing of dark sky photos allows for the revealing or obfuscation of information within the photograph. I’ll include a second processed version of the above photo as an example.

Due east and more visible in this next picture is the red color of Mars. We attempted to use a telephoto lens to reduce the exposure and focus on the unique aspects of the trees in front of the moon, but ran into an issue of condensation as the temperature and humidity started changing rapidly.

One of the fascinating things about taking pictures during a moonrise was that I was constantly adjusting the exposure time to prevent starlines/streaking. Before the moonrise exposure time was at 8 seconds and after moonrise I reduced this down to 3.2 seconds. One of the streakier examples is shown below.

One of the incredible things about taking a camera out at night and pointing it in a direction, then setting the aperture open is just how much you can see.

At less than 3.2 seconds the darkness of the shot makes it hard to make anything out without post processing.

At greater than 5 seconds once the moon had risen the star lines were intolerable.

But that moonrise? Beautiful. Except I’m dealing with noise – that’s all the weird blotchy discoloration instead of there being a smooth transition across the sky.

The above image is the one I posted to Instagram. The noise issue is one that Adobe Lightroom handles well, but Instagram amplifies.

It can be seen here too. Look along the bottom edge.

In future posts I look forward to exploring some apps for editing dark sky photos on the go, and ranking based on which ones make the same pictures that start out looking like mostly void and partially stars the best.

In the meantime, if you enjoyed this post and want to see more dark sky photos please like, comment, and share. I have a lot of photos to edit and play around with, plus I enjoy getting out and taking new ones. I’m excited to try and get some aurora pictures this winter.

Thanks for reading 💕

If you would like to use any of our photos from this post:

  • For unpaid projects, simply credit us by linking back to this website.
  • For paid projects please send me an e-mail and we can exchange a fair use contract with more details.