Light Pollution

Light pollution from improper outdoor lighting wastes billions of dollars and vast quantities of natural resources annually. Starry Night Lights is committed to fighting light pollution and restoring our heritage of star-filled skies. We offer the widest selection of night sky friendly outdoor lighting for your home or business.

Lamenting that we can count the stars

Posted on January 26, 2011 by Noel

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“Poet Ezra Pound must have been very impressed by the electric lights in Manhattan in 1910: “Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will.” In 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupery made a similar comparison about a street lamp and a lamp lighter in “The Little Prince”: “When he lights his lamp, it’s as if he’s bringing one more star to life, or one more flower.”

In the clear night sky of Seoul, you can see about 20 stars. It became rather awkward to use the expression “as many as stars” to describe countless quantity. Light pollution does not just interfere with visibility. Some observatories have shut down as the glow of artificial light make it impossible to study the stars. The Mount Wilson Observatory in California, where Edwin Hubble studied the expansion of universe, shut down its observation operation as the glare from nearby Los Angeles made the night sky six times brighter.

Light pollution has adverse effects on the ecosystem as well. The natural sleep cycle is disturbed, and the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer is increasing, studies show. Migrating birds mistake the artificial light as the moon and get disoriented. Cicadas are singing throughout the day as the night light confuses their sense of time. The artificial lights make creatures great and small go against the laws of nature.

The city of Seoul has recommended rules to prevent light pollution in order to reduce unnecessary lighting. Exterior lights on buildings would not be allowed until 11 p.m. and illumination from street lamps would not reach the windows of residential structures. However, the rules are not legally binding. Observing the stars in urban areas may be as difficult as reaching the stars in the sky.”

If only Ezra Pound and Antoine de Saint-Exupery could see how much light blankets our skies today.

According to a 2007 census report, The Seoul National Capital Area, by all accounts, is a megacity and Seoul proper itself, contains over 10 million residents. As with any megacity, economic, social, and environmental challenges exist. Though many would not consider this a problem, but rather a consequence or virtue of living in a city, light pollution continues to grow everyday around the world. Light pollution contributes to all three challenges listed above.

Economically, communities waste an exorbitant amount on adding new and performing regular maintenance on inefficient light fixtures. If cities continue to waste more money on supplying energy to these light fixtures, then you, the resident or taxpayer, ultimately feel the burden. Hence why many communities around the globe have recently begun to reevaluate their lighting purposes, as well as their lighting ordinances. Some have chose ‘shutting off redundant light fixtures’ as the solution, which is a fine solution, but there’s a better long-term solution. Shielded light fixtures direct the light downward, rather than upward. Directing the light downward concentrates the light, thus creating a more well illuminated area. Unshielded lights can accomplish this, though at the expense of a higher wattage bulb. Think of shielding as ‘more, for less.’ But it doesn’t stop there. To fully maximize the potential of a shielded light fixture, one can couple it with an energy efficient light bulb and a motion sensor. Overall, this ‘lighting trinity’ would save communities the most money due to requiring less energy, fewer light fixtures and light when you need it.

Socially, megacities possess large populations. I think it’s fair to say that some, if not most megacities have a problem regarding crime. The common belief, regarding light and crime, has been to use more light to deter crime. Here’s the truth: more light, actually encourages more criminal activity. Here’s why: excessive light can cause glare. Glare is light that can obscure our vision while driving or walking. Criminals can actually use glare to their advantage, to thwart the authorities. If communities wish to increase safety and reduce crime, I would suggest utilizing motion sensors. Consider the following: if you walked into a dark area where you shouldn’t be and all of a sudden, a bright light illuminated your position, how would you react? The fear of being ‘caught’ in the dark, is enough for potential or real criminals to abandon their efforts. Certainly, crime will continue to occur, but utilizing motion sensors as a deterrent would yield better results than the ‘accepted’ light ordinance most communities utilize.

Environmentally, numerous studies have shown how our bodies, as well as pratically all life on Earth, are adversely affected by light pollution. Nearly all life on Earth functions on a day-night cycle aka circadian rhythm. When something upsets this natural balance, our brains have difficultly coping with the outcome. For example, insomnia, depression and cancer have been linked to light pollution. Certainly, other factors such as stress can affect insomnia, depression and cancer, but the fact remains: light pollution causes health problems. In fact, many animals migratory, feeding and reproducing patterns have been negatively affected. For example, sea turtles populations are on the brink of extinction.

Globally, light pollution is increasingly becoming more and more widespread. What needs to change is how we fundamentally perceive lighting. If all lights utilized proper shielding, then much, if not all of the world’s light pollution would be eradicated. I can not stress the importance of proper shielding enough. Without it, all attempts to curb light pollution will be in vain.

Let there be night!

10,000 Birds Trapped In the World Trade Center Light Beams

Posted on September 17, 2010 by Noel

Image credit: Robert Bejarano

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“This is a view of the 9/11 memorial lights. There’s something floating in them, gliding slowly with an eerie glow, giving them the look of unearthly portals to another dimension. Spooky, but it has a natural explanation.

They were thousands of birds, trapped into the beams, confused by the intense light while trying to go over New York City, en route to warmer climates. The birds saw the intense light from the distance and, lacking any other navigational reference in the sky, they went into it.

According to John Rowden, citizen science director at the Audubon Society’s New York chapter, “it has only happened once before. It’s a confluence of circumstances that come together to cause this. Some of it has to do with meteorological conditions, and some with the phase of the moon.”

About 10,000 birds were estimated to enter the beams, wasting time and energy that now can’t be used in their migratory trip. From the ground, people were surprised and confused by the display. Nobody could tell what the swarm of glowing points were. Ornithology experts recorded the bird voices, as they called in the middle of the night.

To liberate the birds, the NYC authorities had to turn off the beams five times over the night. By dawn, on September 12, all the birds were gone, on their way to their winter promised land.”

What a royal mess. If we are to learn anything from this event, it is proof that light pollution detrimentally affects wildlife. For if it weren’t for NYC authorities shutting down the beams multiple times, the birds would have remained trapped until the morning. Call it stupidity, if you wish, but these creatures have a natural propensity to use [un]natural light sources to guide them on their yearly migration. Sure, you could say this incident was clearly a ‘at the wrong place, at the wrong time’ kind of situation but consider the outcome carefully. If we continue to illuminate the sky at night, similar incidents such as this one are unavoidable. If we eradicate light pollution, we can reclaim the night sky.

Let there be night!

Light bulbs 101

Posted on September 11, 2010 by Noel

There are a lot of new lighting technologies to choose from these days, so ‘which one is the best one to choose’ you may ask? Hopefully, this article will help you make a more informed choice, depending on your needs.

Compact Fluorescent

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Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) represent a new process in which we produce light, albeit with significantly increased longevity and energy efficiency over traditional incandescent lamps. CFLs have been lauded for their remarkable features. Unfortunately, as with most new technology, it also has its problems. CFLs contain mercury, a rather harmful element to the environment if not properly recycled correctly. CFLs are meant to stay on, rather than switched on/off periodically. By doing so, you decrease the life cycle of the CFL drastically, thereby limiting CFLs in their application (especially active motion or motion sensing uses). CFLs usually take a minute to warm up to its peak luminance. Despite their shortcomings, CFLs are a good choice if you plan leaving it on constantly. Personally, I think we’ll see more development with LED lighting than CFLs.

Sodium-Vapor Lamps

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High Pressure Sodium
Known as Sodium-Vapor Lamps, it comes in two flavors: High Pressure Sodium (HPS) and Low Pressure Sodium (LPS). These lamps are typically used mostly in large-scale lighting infrastructures across the globe. HPS/LPS lamps are known as the infamous light polluters to Astronomers and dark sky enthusiasts and financial ‘vampires’ to governments and tax payers. HPS lamps experience ‘cycling,’ which occurs when there’s a loss of sodium in the arc. For example, a HPS Lamp can start a low voltage, but as temperature rises during operation, the internal gas pressure from within the arc tube increases and more additional voltage is required to maintain its lumen or its brightness.

Low Pressure Sodium
LPS is similar to HPS, but usually has a significantly lower wattage and does not exhibit drastic energy consumption than its heavier cousin. If Astronomers had to choose, they would most certainly prefer LPS to HPS lamps and rightfully so. In fact, LPS lamps do not decline in lumen output as they age, typically consume less energy and they have been compared to Fluorescent lamps due to their low–pressure nature. The problem is, from a construction point of view, that the larger the LPS lamp you create, the more design and engineering problems  increases dramatically. Though an efficient light, their construction issues and slight energy need (~10%) at their end-of-life cycle are costly to repair and maintain (similar to HPS).


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Light-emitting-diode lamps represent the latest and greatest in lighting technologies. There are three options, the former two being presently not commercially available, organic light-emitting diodes, polymer light-emitting diodes and light-emitting diodes. These three are also known as Solid-state lighting, for they possess diodes, rather than electrical filaments, plasma (fluorescent lamps), or gas. As for the two former options, they’re quite amazing. Imagine super efficient bendable, paper thin light. We probably won’t see those two options commercially available for several years. As for Light-emitting-diode lamps, they’re similar, if not better, than fluorescent lamps. They contain no mercury, are easy to dispose of and also are quite easy to repair in large-scale applications (just replace the diode rather than the entire circuit). Of course, LEDs have their problems as well. The two big problems are its cost and its light output. As the process matures, LED prices should decrease significantly. As for light output, some studies suggest white LEDs produce light ‘too bright.’ While white LEDs are the easiest to make, other more difficult and colored LEDs correct that issue. Personally, I think this is the future of lighting and probably the best investment.

So there you have it. I hope this helps and of course, always research, research, research. That’s your power as a consumer. One last piece of advice:

Shield all your lighting, no matter what the application!

Without shielding, light still escapes into the heavens above.

Let there be night!

Corrected Light-Pollution Atlas

Posted on July 16, 2010 by Noel

Here are two light-pollution maps of the Northeast stretching from Washington, DC at bottom to Montreal at top. The one at left was based on satellite observations with snow on the ground, while the one at right was snow-free.
David Lorenz

In the newly calculated atlas, the northern U.S. averages a full zone darker than in the old. That corresponds to a 3-fold reduction in skyglow.
David Lorenz


“David Lorenz published data that very strongly suggest that the original Light Pollution Atlas was systematically biased by the fact that snow was on the ground when the underlying satellite measurements were taken. Lorenz recalculated the light pollution for the U.S. and southern Canada based on snow-free satellite observations, and the whole northern part of the area came out roughly one full zone darker. That means that the original atlas overestimate the skyglow in this area by a factor of three.”

These findings are certainly enlightening. David Lorenz sheds some light on the bias of the first original findings, that is, of a large-scale map of North America. To be fair, yes, the first picture above does seem rather drastic. But as the second picture shows, the recalculated data shows minimal changes in the larger metropolitan areas. That is not to say that these new measurements suggest light pollution isn’t the villain it is. Quite the contrary, actually. I welcome David Lorenz’s work with open arms, for science always encourages truth and accuracy [at least in theory]. The weather certainly affected the measurements in the first photograph, there is no doubt about that, but the new data now seems to suggest or question: how can we make precise measurements light pollution measurements, given the fact that the weather can influence the data? Again, I applaud David Lorenz’s work for its increased accuracy compared to the first photograph. Keep up the good work!

In light of these new findings, has anything changed on the light pollution front? Will people consider light pollution ‘less of a problem’ that it really is? Maybe. Why? Well, perhaps some people may think that the problem was ‘exaggerated’ and therefore, it is to be perceived more lightly or less ‘crucial’. Consider the future though. Population continues to increase and the need for illumination will most certainly increase. Light pollution will only get worse, not better over time, if current trends continue. Personally, the collected data on the effects of light pollution speaks for itself.

Let there be night!

Brits Lose Sleep Over Light Pollution

Posted on May 7, 2010 by Noel

Nighttime satellite image shows how prevasive artificial light is acrosss the U.K. and the rest of Europe. Photo: U.S. Military

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“The costs of not acting are clear.“Unnecessarily high energy bills … more carbon emissions, disrupted sleeping patterns for people, disturbance to wildlife, and a night sky bereft of the majesty of the Milky Way.” – CPRE campaigner Emma Marrington told the BBC.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) wants its night skies back from light pollution. A small survey of ~1,500 participants with the British Astronomical Association revealed that 50% of the respondents claim their sleep has been disrupted due to light pollution. Even though it’s a rather small sample size and perhaps, may not account for stress, sleep disorders, diet or say poor bedding (or other complex factors), the spirit of the study is what matters: can excessive light scientifically disrupt sleep patterns? The answer is yes. Excessive light disrupts organisms’ circadian rhythms – human and animal alike. Think of the circadian rhythm as a 24-hour biological clock. Each and every sentient organism functions within this clock daily – there’s a day and a night activity. What I mean by day and night activity is how the brain perceives its surroundings during those periods. Typically, most humans are active during the day and most humans are at rest during the night. Naturally, the circadian rhythm can adjust itself if circumstances require it, e.g. jet lag, but long term imbalances can lead to detrimental effects (lack of sleep, lack of energy, etc.). The circadian rhythm resets when one awakes from perceiving light, yet naps during the day do not disrupt it – it may even be more beneficial to do so. So yeah, good sleep is critical and excessive lighting has been proven to affect the quality of sleep. Let’s say goodnight to light pollution and wake up to a new day.

Let there be night!

Calls to reduce light pollution ‘backed by CPRE survey’

Posted on April 16, 2010 by Noel

“Most people feel their view of the night sky is spoiled by artificial light, a survey suggests.”


Light pollution is an unnecessary waste and detracts from the natural beauty of the night sky, it’s understandable that it makes people angry… The costs of not acting are clear: Unnecessarily high energy bills for councils, and therefore for local taxpayers, more carbon emissions, disrupted sleeping patterns for people, disturbance to wildlife, and a night sky bereft of the majesty of the Milky Way.” – Emma Marrington, rural policy campaigner at CPRE

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has had enough of light pollution. Street lights, neon signs, home and business lights – beware. The CPRE wishes to substantially curb light pollution across the UK. Why? Light pollution “wastes money, is damaging to the environment and seriously detracts from the beauty of the sky at night.” Whilst there have been efforts in the UK, the CPRE is calling on councils, businesses and householders to create better communities that will ensure less intrusive and night sky friendly lighting. Unfortunately, according to the CPRE, “light pollution in England increased by a quarter and the amount of light-saturated night sky rose to 7%. from 1993 to 2000.” Do not dismay, for better lighting starts with shielded lighting fixtures. Utilizing shielding lights in conjunction with low wattage energy efficient bulbs and motion sensors creates concentrated light where you need it most: downward.

Starry Night Lights will always continue to fight the good fight against light pollution.

Let there be night!

U.S. Enacts Nationwide Light Pollution Ban

Posted on April 1, 2010 by Rob

outdoor lighting at the white houseUsing the vast powers provided by the Antiquities Act of 1906, U.S. President Barack Obama today signed a bill that will make illegal all forms of light pollution. At the signing ceremony, Obama praised the tireless efforts of dark sky warriors across the nation and noted that “the night sky is a national treasure that has been hidden from too many in this great land.” Obama noted that the elimination of light pollution would help contribute towards the dual goals of balancing the nations budget and reducing the emission of global warming green house gases. “Many tough challenges lie ahead of this great nation, but reducing light pollution is something that we can do today, with existing technology”. Noting that the light switch was a device that could be operated by most Americans with little need for training, Obama hoped that more of our problems would be as easy to address.

Under the new legislation signed today, all exterior lights would be limited to 5 minutes of use per night. Obama noted that the White House would take a lead on this issue, stating that “all outdoor light at the White House will be outfitted with motion sensors and only be on for a couple of minutes each night”. Obama hoped that other countries would follow the U.S. lead and enact similar legislation. “I challenge the other nations of the world to follow this bold, new U.S. lead initiative. Doing so will save billions of dollars annually, reduce global emissions and let our children see stars in the night sky.”

‘Greenroads’ Rates Sustainable Road Projects

Posted on January 13, 2010 by Noel

Greenroads evaluates a road’s environmental and social impacts. It assigns points for such things as using local or recycled materials, managing runoff and providing wildlife corridors. (Credit: University of Washington)


“The LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] system has been really successful and has achieved a lot. Roads are a big chunk of the construction industry that has an opportunity to participate more fully in sustainability practices. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.” – Steve Muench, a UW assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

The Greenroads project is a collaboration between University of Washington researchers and a global engineering firm CH2M Hill. Established 2007, Greenroads is paving the way forward for transportation agencies by considering the environmental, the economic, and the social implications into road design. To initially qualify, a road must possess at least “a noise mitigation plan, storm-water management plan and waste management plan.” In addition to these mandatory requirements, a road may be awarded additional points if measures to counteract light pollution, using recycled materials, incorporating non-motorized transportation, etc. But what exactly is greenroads’ aims?

“Greenroads’ aims are threefold: to recognize companies already using sustainable methods; to provide a catalog of ideas for greener practices; and to offer an incentive for agencies and companies to build more environmentally friendly roads. The system can be used either for new road projects or for upgrades on existing roads.”

So far, “several government agencies have already expressed interest in the project,” including the Oregon Department of Transportation and the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Highways.

Can a building discourage crime?

Posted on January 11, 2010 by Noel

Image credit: Starry Night Lights
Want to know what makes a home or neighborhood vulnerable to crime? Ask police officers; they see it every day.


Safety by Design, an announced program “by the Lexington Police Department and Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Crime and the Built Environment,” hopes to help inform “Lexington developers, architects, planners and property owners build and renovate safer homes, neighborhoods and commercial buildings by using design principles known to discourage crime.” Inspired from a successful 20-year-old program in England called Secured by Design, Safety by Design hopes to achieve the same level of success in the United States. Here are a few tenets behind the Safety by Design vision:

“Those factors include the design and strength of doors, windows and locks; landscaping considerations, such as shrubbery height; sidewalk, window and garbage can placement; the style, placement and height of fencing; and site plans that maximize visibility.

Some of the guidelines are common sense, but not all are. For example, Lexington Police Chief Ronnie Bastin said he would have assumed that the more outdoor lighting around a building, the better. But research has shown that it’s not necessary to create a lot of light pollution. The key is to put the right amount of light in the right places to discourage criminals and make people feel safe.

Common building design issues in Lexington that encourage crime include overgrown shrubs, tall privacy fences and a lack of windows on the sides of houses”

According to officials at Safety by Design, one does not need to sacrifice aesthetics in order to build a ‘fortress.’ If anything, Safety by Design, is a voluntary program that offers advice and expertise to “the table that might avoid problems before they happen.” Starry Night Lights‘ catalogue features motion controlled lights, Outdoor Wall Lanterns or even light bulbs to help outfit your home into a safer and more environmentally safe residence.

Streetlight switch-off debate: Your Views

Posted on January 4, 2010 by Noel

David Hook with two lonely street lights in the Norfolk village of Hempnall.
Image credit:
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“In this day and age, when climate change is the topic on everyone’s lips, there are significant reductions in CO2 emissions to be had in this initiative if it’s rolled out across the country. There are cost- savings to be had, and people who have trialled it further afield say there’s no evidence of an increase in criminal activity. Light, like so many things in modern life, is an addiction. Being uncomfortable with darkness is only temporary and, like all addictions, once you can wear it out you come out better the other side. I’m not saying everywhere should be unlit at night – all the main links in the city centre should be lit and if there’s a crime problem then these areas should be lit – but there are many places where the lights are just left on because the manufacturer built a dusk-to-dawn timer in them. Once we get over this knee-jerk reaction of ‘I’m going to get mugged’, we can reduce hugely our CO2 output just by turning off lights in Britain for 30 to 40pc of the time.”  – David Hook, from the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

Much of the article shows pro/contra arguments regarding lighting ordinances. Before delving into both sides, I wish to state some facts. Most city ordinances, in principle, wish to illuminate the streets at night. Fair enough, although an unfortunate consequence of this principle exists: inefficient lighting due to an ineffective design. Most streetlamps require high wattage bulbs to illuminate a portion of the ground. The reason? Most street lamps have light shinning beyond 180 degrees, where the light unnecessarily escapes upwards toward the sky. This light ‘leak’ is inescapable, due to poor generational design, and to compensate for this, cities utilize larger wattage light bulbs. Here is a long term solution to this problem: shielded lighting. Shielded lighting, whether a street lamp or a lawn lamp, directs the light downward – where it is needed. Since the design of shielded lighting directs the light downward, the design is efficient in its light use. The Light produced does not escape into the sky and effectively illuminates the ground. An added boon to shielded lighting lies in utilizing a lower wattage bulb to illuminate the same amount of light the previous generation could. Translation: lower energy costs.

Here are two photo examples:

photo © Alin Tolea


photo © Alin Tolea

As for the first picture, when you see the light leak towards the sky, you see three glaring lights shining in the background. This is often referred as ‘sky glow’ amongst dark sky proponents. So what’s the different between sky glow and light pollution? They’re essentially the same thing, although it’s helpful to think of them this way: if sky glow is on the micro level, then light pollution is on the macro level. This article may seem irrelevant to some since it deals with a smaller community in England rather than a larger metropolitan city such as  London, but the principle still remains – illuminate the streets at night. Both the micro and the macro can make the change towards more cost effective and energy efficient shielded street lamps outlined above.

What about some of the contra arguments discussed in the source of the article?

“I would be interested to know if the council has liaised with the police on the number of break-ins within the proposed areas? My concern would be that retail outlets within the town will be vulnerable without streetlighting acting as a deterrent. Are there any comparative data available of links between well-lit/unlit areas and burglaries/accidents? The cost of petty crime, such as smashed windows, is a continuing issue for businesses, and given the high level of rates paid, one begins to wonder just how these can be justified with the ever-decreasing level of service from the council.” – Jennie Price, who runs a business in Diss

Dr. Barry Clark’s essay “OUTDOOR LIGHTING AND CRIME, PART 1: LITTLE OR NO BENEFIT” found no substantial correlative evidence between lighting and crime prevention exists. So what alternatives exist? As stated earlier, shielded lighting removes glare or ‘sky glow’. This glare hinders an individual’s eyesight by increasing the amount of time to detect contrast due to excessive light scattering within the eye. Translation: Unshielded lights hinder an individual’s ability to immediately identify potential assailants, hooligans, etc. Shielded lighting, therefore, can actually help an individual’s eyesight at night. How? Being able to detect contrasts in their immediate environment would allow an increased awareness of those lurking in the shadows and those who are not.

But what if there’s an alleyway – wouldn’t that pose a danger without light?
A form of shielded lighting would solve this problem: Motion Sensing lighting. Motion sensing lighting only activates when there’s movement about. Not only does it save energy/money by only turning on when there’s movement, but it alerts everyone else of the activity. Furthermore, resident Adam Tartt offers some prudent advice about traveling at night:

“Has anyone driven into Norwich after midnight to be met by 15 sets of traffic lights controlling what? Lights on in service areas, lights on bus stop signs, then office blocks. I am sick and tired of this government lecturing me on carbon reduction when they haven’t got their house in order and I’m tired of large corporates putting prices up and blaming green taxes when they do nothing about getting their own house sorted. I don’t want the lights on, I don’t want to see the waste, and I certainly don’t want to foot the bill. For those opposed to it, do as we used to do – arrange safe transport home, walk in twos, get a cab or take a torch.”

Starry Night Lights offers a variety of custom shielded light fixtures suitable for all facets of living: indoor, outdoor, landscape and commercial. We are committed to preserving the dark skies our ancestors before us enjoyed, so that future generations may enjoy what we know as the night sky. Happy New Year everyone and lets make this year a darker one.


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