The Dark Side of Light

May 2015

I was born in a small town. Visits to Cape Town were big events. I remember the beautiful beaches, the cable car, the steepness of Kloofnek Road, my grandmother’s balcony and the fascinating lights at night. White, red, blue, yellow, and orange – shining, pulsating and blinking put on a spectacular show. Nights in our little town were quiet and lit up by the Moon and thousands of twinkling stars. If one stood really still, you could hear the high pitched buzzing sounds of insects and soft shuffling of nocturnal animals. Fireflies were abundant. If you lay on your back long enough, just looking at the stars, you were bound to see a few meteors streak across the sky.
I live in a city now. Visits to small towns are big events now. My body needs to escape from the extended run of the greatest show on Earth: The incandescent, compact fluorescent, mercury vapour, metal halide, halogen, low pressure/high pressure sodium vapour and LED spectacle.
Staging this ongoing show of lights, comes at a major cost – financially, environmentally and medically. One of the biggest disappointments: we were made to believe that excessive lighting would halt criminal activity.
As major infrastructure starts to crumble under the heavy burden of trying to keep this artificial show on the road, small towns need to start leading by example.
Does the community of Betty’s Bay feel deprived because they do not have the orange glow of high pressure sodium vapour lamps flooding the fynbos and into their bedrooms at night? It is a question of one or the other. We can “threaten wildlife, ruin habitats, foul the air, squanders resources, and blocks our view of the heavens” or have a kaleidoscope of lights switched on constantly. Even if we don’t care so much for the environment we can suppress the production of Melatonin in our own bodies and give rise to the disruption of our circadian rhythms (believe me we should not be messing with those) or we can prove that living without excessive illumination is the most natural thing in the world.

This is not only my take but research has shown “that blue light-emitting diodes (LED) pose a more serious threat. Blue light is dispersed through the atmosphere more easily than red (the reason why the sky is blue). To change from red/orange to blue-white blue lights means an increase in light pollution and a waste of energy. Thus, the use of the blue-biased LED is discouraged. (Example: This effect is particularly noticeable when meeting vehicles equipped with high intensity blue-white LED headlights)”
I would advocate that all external alarm lights be orange/red rather than blue. I have a neighbour who has a flashing blue LED to ward off criminals? These I feel should not be allowed at all. For me one of the most precious things about Betty’s Bay is its night sky and I spend a lot of time looking at the stars. Unfortunately the quality of Betty’s Bay’s night sky has diminished, especially in the last decade. Having a flashing blue LED disturb the serenity and beauty of the night is a worrying factor. If I feel so disturbed by this, how more so for all the nocturnal creatures?

(The quotes I’ve used come from various internet sites which deal with light pollution around the globe.)
One site worth visiting is The international Dark Sky Association

Moonlight Fascination

Oct 2014

Moon - CarolInternational Observe the Moon Night was celebrated on 6 September 2014. All over the world people gathered to observe a brilliant Moon in gibbous phase.
What is this fascination we have with our nearest celestial neighbour? For one, our Moon is breathtakingly beautiful. Every night it takes on a new shape as the sunlit portion moves across its face to its own rhythm. From new moon to full moon and back to new moon takes an average 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes

The human brain seems to crave rhythm.
Though solar, lunar and seasonal cycles play a lesser role in modern society, the behaviour of our ancestors depended on these natural rhythms.

Scientists have been doing intensive studies on circadian rhythms. These are physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle and produced by natural factors within the body, but are also affected by signals from the environment.

Although not yet scientifically proven, some individuals believe that the Moon has a great influence on their well- being. They argue that if the Moon governs the tides, surely it would have an influence on the human body as well. There is one problem with this line of thought. The oceans are vast. An individual is but a very tiny speck on Earth.

The Ocean tides are controlled by the forces of gravity (tugging) of the Moon and Sun as well as by the rotation of Earth. Coastal areas usually experience two high and two low tides every 24 hours and 50 minutes. High tides occur 12 hours and 25 minutes apart. It takes six hours and 12.5 minutes for the water at the shore to go from high to low, or from low to high –the rhythm of ebb and flow.

The Earth’s axial rotation and the Moon’s orbital rotation result in a catch-up situation and moonrise for a specific location will be about 50 min later each day. The Moon is also visible during the day, except during new moon, when it occupies the same region in the sky as the Sun and at full moon .

Humans are by nature inquisitive. The Moon is tidally locked to our planet (its orbit of 27.5 is the same time as its axial rotation), showing just one side to us here on Earth. It was only natural that we wanted to know what the far side looked like. Once humans realised that the distance to the Moon could be overcome, missions to the Moon became commonplace and we now know that the most beautiful side is facing us!

Some say they can see a man on the Moon. During full moon I definitely see the rabbit who is still patiently mixing an elixir for Chang’e to be able to return to her beloved husband, Houyi, as in the Chinese legend.

In a world of bright lights we no longer rely on the Moon to guide our daily activities. How often do we forget that it is up there? Yet sometimes as you draw the curtains for the night it surprises you and your gaze locks in utter fascination.

It was fascination I know
And it might have ended
Right then, at the start
Just a passing glance
Just a brief romance
And next moment I kiss you
Fascination turned to love

– Nat King Cole