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Spotlight: Brilliant Timelapses Underscore the Problem of Light Pollution

By David Schonauer   Monday January 13, 2020


In the future will we see stars?

Last year, noted PetaPixel recently, photographer and filmmaker Asif Islam of Asif Photography set out to capture an 8K timelapse that would show the impact of light pollution. So he traveled from one end of the spectrum, so to speak, to the other, traveling from bright lights of Los Angeles to the Great Basin Desert of the western U.S., one of the least light-polluted places on Earth. The result is a new time-lapse (below), titled Where are the Stars?

“Most of us live under heavily light polluted skies, and some people have never even seen the Milky Way,” writes Islam. “During a 1994 blackout, L.A. residents called 911 when they saw the Milky Way for the first time. Although we can't imagine popular cities like L.A. and Manhattan almost dark upon nightfall, we can limit the light pollution specially the sky glow. Sky glow is the result of light directed upward instead of where it is most useful: on streets and homes. Thus most of a city’s artificial light is wasted anyway.”

To create his compilation of 8K timelapses, Islam used the popular website darksitefinder.com to scout locations.

“The whole endeavor was challenge, but a rewarding one,” notes PetaPixel. “Despite the threat of bears, snakes and other wildlife when out shooting in the middle of nowhere completely alone, Asif says that he was ‘awestruck by the beauty of night sky at very less polluted areas.’”

“We are losing our connection with the night sky, which provided us with wonders like Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza and the Mayan calendar,” writes Islam. “It also keeps our overworked, politicized lives simple, and makes us kind, thoughtful. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson said: ‘When you look at the night sky, you realize how small we are within the cosmos.’”

Today we also feature Ancestral Nights, a new timelapse from  Harun Mehmedinovic and  Gavin Heffernan, the filmmakers behind the Skyglow Project, an ongoing crowdfunded project that aims to explore the effects and dangers of urban light pollution. Their work, notes Earthsky.org, does so by contrasting urban locations “with some of the most incredible dark sky areas in North America.”

The new film took Mehmedinovic and Heffernan to National Park Service sites in California, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, where they captured the night sky over ancient petroplyphs and structures.

“These petroglyphs and structures reflect the long standing interest in ancient astronomy which grew stronger as many of the tribes went from the hunter-gatherer to the agrarian societal orders,” note the filmmakers at Vimeo. “From references to the Sun carved in the rock, and interest in using the Sun to predict seasons (entire buildings built to essentially serve as sundials and calendars, a critical element in the farming communities) to those of 13 moons (lunar annual calendar), to carvings of stars and constellations, interest in celestial bodies is ever present across the indigenous communities of the United States.”

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