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Over 80% of the world lives with light pollution—what are they missing out on?

The stars above Jacksonville are slowly disappearing, becoming dimmer due to increasing light pollution and urban development. But the growing obstruction of our night sky shouldn’t only concern astronomers—it could also negatively affect public health.

Jason Haraldsen, a theoretical physics professor at the University of North Florida, spoke about the problems light pollution can cause. 

“Light pollution is essentially the excess light that comes from power,” he said. “If you’re near cities, it’ll dim the stars. Most places have street lights [and] urban lighting … [so] light pollution does get [worse].” 

While exposure to artificial light is mainly of concern to environmentalists and astronomers, Haraldsen said doctors also worry about the effects it could have on the body.

“It can lead to some health issues and mess up your circadian rhythm,” he said. 

Circadian rhythms regulate sleep patterns, hormone release, appetite and body temperature. Exposure to light and dark has the most significant effect on circadian rhythm.

According to National Geographic, exposure to light at night can result in headaches, stress, anxiety and other health problems.

Haraldsen says it is essential to establish a balance between nighttime lighting for public safety and environmental conservation. Energy-efficient lighting could mitigate the problem, he said.

Many dark sky enthusiasts support specific types of outdoor lighting with cutoff fixtures that direct light downward instead of into the sky. Haraldsen said efficient lighting systems could also save money and reduce economic waste.

According to Florida Atlantic University, one-third of all lighting in the U.S. is wasted, costing around $2 billion. 

Miles away from Jacksonville’s nighttime glow, Haraldsen sometimes visits a lab in the desert of New Mexico with his students. According to him, students are always shocked by the number of stars they see above them.

“You can almost see the Milky Way galaxy,” he said. 

While Haraldsen said Jacksonville is far from the worst urban center for light pollution, it’s still bad, which has hindered astronomy nights at UNF.

Much of the state has polluted skies, which makes stargazing difficult anywhere in Florida. According to the Florida Museum, this excess light also affects animals like sea turtles, Atlantic salmon and tree frogs.

More than 80% of the world’s population lives in light-polluted areas, with many never seeing the true beauty of a starry night sky.

The night sky at Stephen C. Foster State Park in Georgia (Thomas Herrold)

Far from the dark desert skies of New Mexico, Stephen C. Foster State Park in Georgia is a certified dark sky site around 90 miles northwest of Jacksonville. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge surrounds the park with little light pollution.

According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the park offers “some of the darkest skies in the southeast,” and guests can even see the Milky Way in late summer.

The park mostly lacks artificial light and is nearly pitch-black at night. The stars above the park shine much brighter than in Jacksonville, where excess light from the 875-square-mile city illuminates the sky.

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For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected]

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Thomas Herrold, Reporter Intern

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