Lost in the light Light Pollution in San Bernardino

By Dusty Alexander |Contributing Writer|

San Bernardino residents are no doubt aware of the orange glow that hangs over the city and blocks out their view of the sky many nights out of the year. This murky haze is light pollution.

“Light pollution is human-caused light that shines and obscures our view of the stars at night,” said Laura Woodney, a professor of physics who also works at the Murillo Family Observatory at CSUSB. “It limits the kind of science we can do and what we can see and learn about the universe.”

As our cities grow and become more industrialized, the use of artificial light has increased, ranging from excess lighting used for businesses, sporting events and personal use at home.

Woodney teaches astronomy and explained that in each class there is at least one or two people who have never seen the Milky Way.

This is not surprising, as the recently released “World Atlas of Artificial Brightness” states that 80 percent of people in the world have to deal with light pollution blocking the view of the Milky Way. This is especially prominent in the United States.

“I think it is a sad problem that we have lost track of the natural beauty of our world: we lose a piece of who we are when we don’t get to see the stars at night,” said Woodney.

However, light pollution does not only rob people of their view of the stars; it is harmful to our health.

“Light pollution’s awful for the humans and the animals,” said Natalie Pierce, a 59-year-old retired nurse. “It messes up our circadian rhythms, which then hurts our sleep schedules and can lead to all kinds of health problems.”

Pierce explained that human bodies produce melatonin when they sleep properly, but too much light hinders how the hormone is released, which can hurt the immune system.

Even if people are not aware, excessive light can affect humans. Strong blue light is especially stimulating to the brain and makes it harder to fall asleep. Humans are also not the only ones affected, with many animals like birds whose sense of time and sleep are controlled by the amount of light.

“I hear the birds chirping all night because they don’t know what time it is anymore,” said Pierce.

Photos of the universe taken from the telescope at CSUSB

Perhaps even worse than light pollution causing health effects is that most of the light is being wasted.

Woodney explained how most of the light, with the light of businesses being one of the biggest culprits, has no reason to be going up into the sky. It should be going downwards where it is needed.

“Think about why you are putting up a security light. You don’t want someone getting into your house or your yard, so you can have a security light that’s not shining up into the sky,” said Woodney.

On the plus side, there are ways to limit light pollution.

Using lower wattage bulbs with shielded lamps both saves energy and keeps excess light from being sent into the sky. Using shielded street and city lights would go a long way in helping the problem.

San Bernardino, while suffering both air pollution and light pollution, is in a convenient area for star gazing, between the deserts and the mountains nearby.

“I grew up in the city and never got to see the stars until I went away on a church retreat,” said Chris Gerald, a 26-year-old student.

Gerald explained that seeing the Milky Way for the first time was an “amazing” experience, and it is a sight people can see with a little bit of driving.

“Laying down in the grass and looking up at the stars to see the bright lights against the black sky was calming and peaceful,” said Gerald.

San Bernardino residents looking for a chance to better see the stars can also visit the monthly open houses at the Murillo Family Observatory.

“When you can really see the night sky, just the stunning, gorgeous beauty of it gives you an appreciation for how amazing our earth is and what a wonderful place it is. That’s something people are missing out on,” said Woodney.

The Maurillo Family Observatory
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Jason Samp

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