Astronomers Introduce New Term “Noctalgia” to Highlight the Impact of Light Pollution

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The issue of light pollution has become so severe that astronomers have coined a new term to emphasize the emotional toll associated with losing the night sky. This newly created word, “noctalgia,” can be roughly translated to “sky grief.” It serves as a poignant reminder of the rapid disappearance of the once-pristine night sky.

Astronomer Aparna Venkatesan from the University of San Francisco, in collaboration with John Barentine, the director of public policy at the International Dark Sky Association, introduced the term “noctalgia.” They submitted a brief on noctalgia to the journal Science, which subsequently featured it as a cover story commemorating the 50th anniversary of the journal’s first mention of light pollution.

The cover story in Science acknowledges the impact of outdoor electric lighting on our nightscape:

“Today, the widespread deployment of outdoor electric lighting means that the night is no longer dark for most people—few can see the Milky Way from their homes. Outdoor lighting has many legitimate uses that have benefited society. However, it often leads to illumination at times and locations that are unnecessary, excessive, intrusive, or harmful: light pollution.”

While the term “pollution” is typically associated with issues like smog and plastic waste in oceans, the expansion of urban areas and the proliferation of LEDs have tangible consequences for astronomy, human well-being, and the environment. Studies reveal that light pollution has been increasing by nearly 10% annually over the past decade. Mismanagement of nocturnal lighting not only robs us of the opportunity to admire the starry sky but also disrupts our circadian rhythms, interferes with the migration patterns of animals, and harms plant life.

In the words of Venkatesan and Barentine, “We offer here the term to express sky grief for the accelerating loss of the home environment of our shared skies, a disappearance felt globally and deserving its own field of study of nyctology. This represents far more than mere loss of environment: we are witnessing loss of heritage, place-based language, and identity.”

The silver lining with light pollution, if one can call it that, is that it is more reversible than other forms of pollution. Light does not accumulate, so simply replacing disruptive blue LEDs with less intrusive options could help us reclaim our night skies. Additionally, installing shields on light fixtures can prove to be an effective measure.

The Science cover story underscores the importance of raising awareness about the environmental impact of excessive nighttime lighting:

“Often, those responsible for poor lighting do not realize that it is causing pollution that harms the environment. Careful design, appropriate use of technology, and effective regulation can ensure that we retain the benefits of artificial light at night while minimizing its harmful effects. If we fail to do so, we will lose what little darkness remains.”

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Martin Harris
I'm Martin Harris, a tech writer with extensive experience, contributing to global publications. Trained in Computer Science, I merged my technical know-how with writing, becoming a technology journalist. I've covered diverse topics like AI and consumer electronics, contributing to top tech platforms. I participate in tech events for knowledge updating. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, photography, and aim to clarify technology's complexities to readers.

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