Where Did All The Stars Go?

Starry Night By Van Gogh, Inspired by the Night Skies (Picture from Van Gogh Gallery)

My childhood was spent in Dehradun. I remember being mesmerized by clear starry skies. In winters, when the air is crisp and cold, everything was sharper and crystal clear. During my 10th-grade board exams, I used to wake up at 5am to study in the verandah. The idea being that the cold would keep me awake, but, most of the time, I used to be distracted by the beauty of twinkling stars and the bright moon. The beauty of nature all around me became intrinsically tied with my memory of the preparation of boards. However, the memory I cherish the most is of a cold October night. My college-going cousin was visiting Dehradun with her friends for a holiday. They had been given a room on the terrace, and I was given the chore of calling them downstairs for dinner. As I climbed up the unlit outside stairs that led to the terrace, my heart thumped a bit. The silent, dark trees and chirps of insects gave an eerie feeling. However, as soon as I stepped onto the terrace, I gave a gasp. The whole world was awash in silvery moonlight. Enchanted, I looked up at the sky. The full moon shone silvery bright. What was even more entrancing was a perfect moonbow encircling the moon. I stood still, my chore forgotten, drinking in the beauty of the night. The beauty of the moon, the twinkling of the stars, the crisp, cold autumn air are deeply imprinted in my memories even after thirty years. Sometimes, I close my eyes and recalling the memory, I am transported back on that roof, marvelling at the beauty of nature. I doubt I will ever be lucky enough to see such clear skies again. Now, as an adult, when I go to Dehradun, the night skies are obstructed. And the blame lies squarely on light pollution.

Light pollution has been defined as excessive, misdirected, or obtrusive artificial ( usually outdoor) light. When pollution is discussed, we think about physical pollutants like plastics, chemicals, etc. that are physically added to the environment. This leads to the harming of air, water and land. However, light pollution is something most of us are either unaware of or ignore. Light pollution obscures the skies, disrupting ecosystems and causing adverse health reactions. Due to light pollution, the circadian rhythm gets disrupted, leading to changes in the predatory habits of nocturnal animals. This also affects the migratory patterns of birds, breeding rituals of frogs and leads to the demise of sea turtles. In humans, disruption of circadian rhythm leads to a decrease in the production of melatonin. Melatonin has antioxidant properties, and the decrease in its production leads to several health issues. But for me, the most adverse effect of light pollution is that our children now no longer have the habit of looking up in the sky and wonder at the secrets of the universe.

The night skies are now obstructed by the street lights, lights from hoardings etc. My children, having been brought up in a big city, have never looked up at the sky in curiosity or amazement. Nor are they able to identify the constellations. The sense of wonder and peace that I used to get just by looking up at the sky is now only a memory. Now, if I want to see the stars, I need to drive into a deserted area, and even then, there is no guarantee I will be able to see anything. Such seems to be the price of progress that the sky that once used to inspire us, attract us, is now hidden behind the haze of yellow streetlights and hoardings.

The stars still twinkle in the sky. We just need to dim the lights to see them.

You can check out the following links for more information on Light Pollution




This post is part of Blogchatter’s #CauseAChatter – #EnvironmentTalks campaign

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