The Milky Way over Waterton, Canada, taken from Waterton Lakes National Park (an International Dark Sky Park)
There is something magical about seeing the International Space Station (ISS) fly overhead. For a moment, it is among the brightest objects in the sky as it orbits the earth every 93 minutes. A few weeks ago, my youngest son and I viewed it bright and low on the horizon. The experience was memorable because there is only one ISS, and it tells a remarkable story of international cooperation.
But all of this is about to change. According to recent studies, soon, 1 in 15 points of light in the sky will be a satellite. In 2019, there were 2,500 satellites in orbit. In comparison, by 2030, there may be as many as 100,000 orbiting the earth. These include the tens of thousands of communication satellites planned to connect most of our world with high-speed internet.
Although satellites promise global connectivity, it is not without environmental impacts.
Satellites cause light pollution by reflecting sunlight down to earth at night, posing a substantial threat to the study of the cosmos and the visual enjoyment of the night sky. The cumulative impact of reflection from thousands of satellites, and the associated debris, may increase the night skyâ€™s brightness by up to 250% and half of all stars would become invisible. The impacts on bird migration and entire ecosystems are foreseeable.
Whose sky is it anyway?
No treaty or law limits the brightness of satellites. To date, there has been no comprehensive review of the impacts of the proliferation of satellite swarms on space debris, radio-frequency interference, orbital collisions, or the environmental fallout in the upper atmosphere as satellites burn up. Some have called the satellite rush the new wild west or the next colonial frontier.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) staff and volunteers bring attention to these issues, studying these aberrations and advocating for sound legislation to regulate the night sky. We are not opposed to satellites. We use them every day in our work but we are deeply concerned that the impact on the night sky, and the Earth, will be profound unless we promote practical principles to protect it.
At IDA, we believe the night sky belongs to every living thing. No single individual or company should be allowed to despoil it for all. That is why IDA is leading the charge in calling for an immediate pause in launches to allow time for a thorough assessment and meaningful consultation. Take a few minutes to learn more about this fast-emerging issue by visiting darksky.org/new-satellite-study/ Dark-Sky Association, All rights reserved.
Protecting the Night
IDA is the authoritative voice on light pollution and educates lighting designers, manufacturers, technical committees and the public about controlling light pollution. We recognize that the best way to accomplish our goal of protecting and restoring our natural night environment is through the promotion of quality outdoor lighting. To achieve this, we developed the Fixture Seal of Approval program to provide objective, third-party certification for lighting that minimizes glare, reduces light trespass and doesnâ€™t pollute the night sky. Here are some steps people can take to help reduce light pollution at home.
Assess the lighting around your home. Poor lighting not only creates glare and light pollution but also wastes enormous amounts of energy and money. Take a few moments to inspect your property for inefficient, poorly installed, and unnecessary outdoor lighting. Learn how by visiting our Residential/Business Lighting page.
Use dark sky friendly lighting at your home and business. Look for the (IDA) Fixture Seal Of Approval on any outdoor lighting you purchase. IDA maintains a searchable database of lighting products certified to minimize glare, light trespass, and skyglow. These products are recommended when replacing outdated or inappropriate lighting fixtures.
Become a citizen scientist. Be part of a global community that is helping scientists measure and study light pollution. There are several ways to help. No experience necessary!
Visit an International Dark Sky Place! IDAâ€™s Dark Sky Places program recognizes locations with exceptionally dark skies and local efforts to keep them that way. Many of these places are state or national parks. By visiting these locations your tourism dollars help sustain and protect these rare and fragile locales for the benefit of future generations. Find a Dark Sky Place.
Join IDAâ€™s Advocate Network, a global community united in its efforts to protect the night from light pollution. Check out the work of some of our advocates, see a map of advocates around the world, and submit your interest in joining here.
Unveil the Night campaign! Your support ensures that IDA has a seat at the table when scientific studies about light pollution, satellite swarm regulations, and other policies are being discussed, enacted, and implemented. Together we will continue to be a clear voice to protect the night from light pollution. Until December 31st, a small number of generous IDA supporters will match the first $100,000 in gifts. Please join them today tohelp reach our end-of-year goal. https://darksky.salsalabs.org/unveilthenight/index.html