Library of
Design, Art and Idea

Tracing the Darkness

21.02.2015
Vol. 5

How many stars can you count on a clear sky at night? 3? 15? 40? 100? Have you started to think that the Milky Way you saw during your childhood is merely an illusion? Or have you even seen the Milky Way? The heavily light polluted skies of the cities isolates us from the reality of the glory of the night sky. Unnecessary use of artificial lighting and incorrect choice of fixtures or light bulbs create light pollution. Therefore, it feels like as if we need to trace the darkness in order to properly observe, understand and, describe the Universe.

With industrialization, we have begun to use artificial lighting much more, particularly more so in urbanized areas that are heavily populated and crowded with buildings. Especially as a result of the incorrect use of artificial lights in public areas, the level of natural light began to deteriorate. The main reason of this problem is not the light itself, but badly-designed or incorrectly used lighting systems. And this situation threatens our natural environment, our health, overall course of the scientific studies and our economy. Many living species which have evolved according to the day-light and darkness have begun to lose their natural light-dark balance because of the light pollution, in the last hundred years. They are exposed to light for longer than ever before, so they cannot literally meet the need for darkness. This inevitably has many consequences. Scientists have found that, women working at night or in shifts have higher risk of developing breast cancer. As the production of melatonin being high at night, our bodies are protected in a way. Since the production of melatonin drops when it is light, being exposed to light for longer period of time at night disrupts the natural order of the body and makes it vulnerable. In 2005, an experiment conducted on mice by placing breast cancer cells on them. Three different types of blood taken from the volunteer subjects who were exposed to daylight, darkness at night and light at night are injected to the mice. As a result of the experiment, when the blood sample exposed to darkness at night (with a higher level of melatonin) is given the mouse, the growth of tumor was inhibited; and when the blood sample with lower levels of melatonin is given the mouse, the tumor rapidly growed.(1) It is considered that, the light pollution triggers other types of cancer (prostate, etc.) and a variety of other sicknesses. It is not only the human beings who are exposed to the negative effects of light pollution. It is a well-known fact that, natural light and day-night difference is an important part of many animals’ and plants’ life cycles. A wide array of species suffer, their lives thrown out of their natural order by the light pollution. Feeding cycles, sleeping cycles, breeding cycles, migration cycles take their cues from the sun, the moon and unfortunately this artificial glow of light confuses them and makes them act out of accordance with nature. The migrating birds using constellations at night are confused because of the city lights. They circle around the high rise buildings with lights and some end up dying because they are either exhausted or hit the buildings. It is estimated that, nearly a hundred million birds die by hitting the buildings each year in the United States. According to a study conducted by Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, when half of a building's lights turned off, bird deaths were reduced by 83% compared to when the lights were on. For this reason, 'Lights Out' program guidelines advise the owners of the many buildings in the city to reduce the use of unnecessary or decorative lightings during the migration period of birds.(2) Since their existence, sea turtles detect that the sea is at the bright side of the horizon as the water reflects starlight. Newly hatched sea turtles need a dark night sky to orient themselves toward the sea. Unfortunately artificial lights behind beaches lure them away. They crawl toward artificial light sources purely because they are following the same instinctive response that leads them seaward on naturally lighted beaches. As they move inland towards artificial light sources, they will suffer exhaustion, dehydration, and possible death from cars on nearby roads. Sea turtles are not the only ones affected by this, many other different species are also being harmed. If the light causes pollution, that means that some of the energy consumed is wasted. In addition, the oil, natural gas and coal are also wasted, in order to generate the electricity to use the light. Light pollution costs a half billion dollars each year in the United States. However, it is stated that we can save at least 30% of the electrical energy with the right lighting. Slovenia is a good example in this regard; within the framework of the legislation adopted in 2007, by changing the lamps and lighting fixtures, the energy spent for outdoor lighting was reduced by 40-60% in four years.(3) Searching for darkness to capture the 'light' Scientists have to capture the light coming from the celestial bodies to study and understand the origin and the nature of the universe we live in. And they search for the darkness (dark skies) to do that! Unfortunately because the artificial lights hit the particles and dust in the air and return back causing the sky to shine, the light from the celestial bodies, that have been on the way for ten, twenty thousand, three million or two billion years, get caught in the obstacle of the light that we, humankind, create. The bottom line is that the visibility of celestial objects in the night sky is clearly affected by light pollution. Skyglow (or sky glow) is of particular concern to astronomers as it is responsible for creating a blinding effect over the night sky. It makes it challenging for astronomers to see anything other than the most luminous stars and planets. To deal with this problem, both professional and amateur optical astronomers search viewing sites located far from major urban areas. But regardless, who can guarantee that more buildings will not be developed or that suburbs won’t extend to become new cities? Considering the fact that astronomy is one of the few sciences where amateurs can still play an active role, amateur astronomers, astrophotographers whose purpose is to catch the light to share with others, are increasingly looking for observing spots with darker skies to organize star parties and/or observing runs. Scientific information enrich the perception of the universe.(4) If, for some reason (atmospheric conditions, etc.), we did not have a sky filled with stars, perhaps we would not know and still be searching what kind of universe we live in, our location, and that we are only a tiny dot in such vastness. Unfortunately though, due to the obstacle we created, under the fog created by city lights, we sever our ties with the night sky gradually. Because of that we might have to limit the dimension of our dreams by the Earth, Moon and Mars alike. If we do not become self- aware and take the necessary measures for light pollution, this “fog” may eventually blur our minds! 'Starlight' right As mentioned earlier in the article, the light pollution has a dimension that concerns all of humanity both for the present and future. At the meeting titled "Preserving the Astronomical Sky", held in Vienna in 1999, by International Astronomical Union (IAU), in conjunction with United Nations (UN) and the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), it was suggested that UN member states consider cooperating in an effort to control light pollution in order to protect the natural environment, energy conservation, ensuring the safety of night as well as removing the road blocks to fully pursue the love of observational astronomy and of science.(5) In Starlight Declaration that has ensued as a result of the conference held in 2007, in Spain La Palma, Canary Islands with the participation of many institutions such as UNESCO, International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), The International Astronomical Union (IAU), The European Southern Observatory (ESO), The International Commission on Illumination, The European Renewable Energy Council, etc. about defense of the night sky, it is specified that an unpolluted sky is as inalienable right (starlight right) of humankind as economic, social and cultural rights.(6) Due to the negative effects of light pollution, some countries have begun to take legislative action to put measures in place to deal with this issue. Also efforts are being made to organize workshops on the subject alongside any other action to bring much needed awareness. In addition, international conferences are being held every year on this subject, in different parts of the world. Prof. Dr. Zeki Aslan(7) who participated the 11th Protection of the Night Sky Symposium held on 6-8 October 2011 in Osnabrück, Germany stated that, Lombardi region in Italy, Czech Republic and Slovenia passed a special law on the subject. He also stated that even though there is no specific piece of law in Germany, England and France they deal with the problem with the widespread support from state and municipal authorities by choosing right light fixtures and applying correct illumination. Also in France and Belgium there are sensible regulations in place as far as handling some of the lights in the city within certain hours.(8) Many States in the United States of America are working on specific language in related legislation and passing laws pertaining to the issue of light pollution. To reduce the damage of light pollution, it is not enough to only take legislative action. It is also essential that some designated areas where people can have access to dark skies be protected. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) already identified some areas as “dark sky” parks. Also land surrounding some observatories including these parks have been put under protection. There are 47 sites like this in the world.(9) The brighter is the merrier! In Turkey, as the municipalities want to see the cities ‘sparkling’ at night, the brighter is the better(!), it is possible to see many sloppy applications all around. It is obvious that lighting is not only a cosmetic issue after mentioning all the problems caused by excessive lighting. It is clear that a drastic change in mentality is in order if more lighting is considered better even from a cosmetic perspective let alone from the perspective of a more serious issue; light pollution that is.
In Turkey, first studies concerning light pollution have begun in the 1990s under the leadership of TUG (TÜBİTAK National Observatory). TUG has begun with a team consisting of employees of İstanbul Technical University (ITU), the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Electrical Power Resources Survey and Development Administration, Turkey Electricity Distribution Co. (TEDAŞ), Turkish Standards Institute (TSE), General Directorate of Highways. As a result of the work done until 2001, by the coordination of TÜBİTAK Office of Science and Technology Policy, the draft for "Electrical Outdoor Lighting Regulations" has been prepared and presented to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources in 2001. Although there have been small improvements, no legislative action has been taken. As a separate attempt, this draft regulation was updated and converted to the 'Light Pollution Resolution Draft’ and included in TÜBİTAK’s year 2005 plan; but unfortunately this too didn’t result in any specific action. Also, the suggestion by TÜBİTAK National Observatory, which was brought up in an attempt to protect the surrounding areas of the observatory within a radius of 30 km, due to the loss of a portion of the sky caused by the lights of 'developing’ Antalya was not considered .(11) In 2010, ‘Preventing Light Pollution in Turkey (TİKE)’, a brand new project has been started by the İstanbul Kültür University. The project’s aim is to search for areas with access to dark, clear night skies by measuring the brightness of the night sky. One of the goals is for researches to look out ‘new appropriate’ places and mark these spots and work for their long term protection for observatories, star parties and for amateur astronomers. The data obtained will help evaluate the economic, environmental and cultural dimension of light pollution.(12) In 2012, the PLD (Professional Lighting Design) Turkey, Architectural Lighting Design Magazine has started "The City Dark Film Screenings", activities that can help raise awareness about the negative effects of light pollution. In a delightful twist of fate, an entity whose primary focus is lighting design shown interest in light pollution! This could mean that perhaps through a partnership of different sides from the opposite ends of the isle, a wider awareness on the issue of light pollution can be created. The stronger the voice is, the easier the fight gets. This year, these activities began to be realized in cooperation with universities and academics. As a result of the first seminar in this direction, which was held on September 24, the first step was taken towards establishing relations with the Chamber of Architects which actually is a fairly big deal. Design Problem Although light pollution is being evaluated in a multidisciplinary area, it is not possible to take some of the necessary measures without designing the proper lighting fixtures. When we look around, we see that lamps of especially roads, streets, parks, historical sites and tourist facilities illuminate more space than we need. For this reason, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) recommends the method of pointed lighting, which illuminates only the place it is directed. As this is a technical issue, it has a lot of details but basically the type of lamp and fixture design vary according to the area they will be used. For example for road illumination, low-pressure sodium lamp and fixtures which were screened in order to prevent the light to go higher than the horizontal plane that passes through the lamp location are recommended. According to the information on the website of TİKE, in general, the light shall be prevented from directing to the sky, shall be directed to the place to be, light sources which give more light per unit of energy shall be used, unnecessary lighting -for example, advertisement and placard lightings- shall be closed after midnight by using timers. Light pollution is said to be 'a global problem with a local solution'. People seem to have an active imagination when it comes to other environmental issues but when light pollution is mentioned people seem to have a harder time to wrap their heads around it. Bringing awareness through public outreach activities is very important because people are not very familiar with this concept. You can actually start your individual contribution by making sure that your house has the proper fixtures and you can also volunteer for TİKE project created at the Kültür University. If you want to contribute to the study of light pollution map of the GLOBE at Night project which is an international project created to raise awareness about the effects of light pollution, you may compare the image of the Orion constellation that you see (if you can) with the brightness charts given on the website and send your observation reports to the site together with the coordinates of your location.(13) If light pollution concerns your working area in a way, it will be effective to include this matter in your projects. The project created by PLD (Professional Lighting Design) Turkey, Architectural Lighting Design Magazine and universities is a great example of that. You can increase individual and social consciousness and awareness projects by entering into co-operation with other organizations related with this matter. You can get a stronger hand by creating a structure that allows members from many different areas to get together under one roof. The majestic view seen when one gets away from the city lights and unveils the curtain of “fog” in the sky is actually above us every night, whether we see it or not. People who live in cities do not have the chance to encounter this beautiful view. Even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to look up for they simply lack the concept. It is hard for them to even believe that those are images from the actual night sky when they look at pictures taken by others! The sky is in fact more than just a view for us. The sky makes us feel that we are a part of the universe, -in this sense, in fact, it is not a concept that represents the distance from us- it represents a familiar territory in a strange sense; by wrapping its majestic self around us throughout the history. Since ancient times, the sky has been a source of inspiration for people with its mystery and glory. It has pushed us to question our existence and encouraged us to make an effort to solve its meaning. Throughout the history of humankind, researching the sky has played an important role in the development of cultures and civilizations. By the development of science in time, we have realized that the earth (we) is not the center of the universe; proving the earth-centered universe model is wrong. The history of humankind experienced an intellectual revolution. None of this came easily though; if we remember the scientists prosecuted and ordered house arrest. If not for any other reason, for this reason only, it is worth saving our night sky from light pollution. It is worth protecting the environment, our health and our economy by paying a well-deserved attention to the issue of light pollution. At the end, it means to show respect for ourselves/universe. References and Notes 1. Blask DE, Brainard GC, Dauchy RT, Hanifin JP, Davidson LK, Krause JA, Sauer LA, Rivera-Bermudez MA, Dubocovich ML, Jasser SA, Lynch DT, Rollag MD, Zalatan F., Melatonin-Depleted Blood from Premenopausal Women Exposed to Light at Night Stimulates Growth of Human Breast Cancer Xenografts in Nude Rats, American Association for Cancer Research, 2005; 65: (23) 2. Kousky, C., A Building Less Bright, Chicago Skyscrapers Go Dark for Migratory Birds, www.terrain.org/articles/15/kousky.htm 3. Aslan, Z., Avrupa Işık Kirliliği Sempozyumu’ndan Yansımalar ve Türkiye (Reflections from Europe Light Pollution Symposium, and Turkey). Cumhuriyet Newspaper, Science and Technology Journal, April 6, 2012, p. 12 4. Reeves, H., Boşluk Bakışımın Biçimini Alıyor (L'espace Prend la Forme de mon Regard), (Kurtuluş Dinçer, Trans.). Ankara: TÜBİTAK Popular Science Books, 2001 5. International Astronomical Union (IAU) Symposium 196 "Preserving the Astronomical Sky" Report, Vienna, 1999, www.iau.org/static/publications/IB86.pdf 6. StarLight Declaration in 2007, www.starlight2007.net 7. Prof. Dr. Zeki Aslan is the first director of TÜBİTAK National Observatory and the founder of the Physics Department at Akdeniz University. 8. Aslan, Z., Avrupa Işık Kirliliği Sempozyumu’ndan Yansımalar ve Türkiye (Reflections from Europe Light Pollution Symposium, and Turkey). Cumhuriyet Newspaper, Science and Technology Journal, April 6, 2012, p. 12 9. International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), www.darksky.org 10. Sanhueza P., Schwarz HE, Smith MG, The OPCC Experience in Protecting the Skies of Northern Chile, Starlight 2007 Conference Report, 2008; 427-434 11. TÜBİTAK National Observatory (TUG), www.tug.tubitak.gov.tr/isik_kirliligi.php 12. İstanbul Kültür University, TİKE Project, www.iku.edu.tr/tike 13. GLOBE at Night, www.globeatnight.org
Vol. 5
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