The importance of protecting the sky with night lighting

9 Jan 2024

The night sky has been a very valuable factor for humankind. People have used the night sky to create
navigation routes, discover constellations and even go deeper into some esoteric aspects such as the
horoscope signs.

This element is part of our culture and our sense of society, and is very much needed in many ways. That is why today, more than ever, it is paramount to protect it.

The Sky Protection Office of the IAC (Spanish acronym standing for “Institute of Astrophysics of the
Canary Islands”) has been defending the sky for more than 30 years. This institution is tasked with
analyzing different parameters of the night sky in the Canary Islands. Even though the region meets the
ideal conditions for astronomical observation, some factors were adversely affecting the clarity or
transparency of the atmosphere.

Such negative effects mainly stem from the misuse of luminaires, as the area is experiencing an ongoing
and considerable rise resulting from the increase in population and tourism.
The scientific community began to place the focus on this issue associated with night lighting, so in 2003
the First International Starlight Conference was held. Since 2006, it has been celebrated along with
institutions such as UNESCO, the World Tourism Organization, the International Astronomical Union,
UN commissions, etc.

On La Palma island, the first manifesto in favor of the night sky and the right to benefit from star light
was then drafted and signed. The aim was to protect the sky because of its implications and effects on
biodiversity and life itself.

What is the Starlight Foundation?

After this conference, the Starlight Foundation was created as the entity responsible for the development
and promotion of the Declaration of La Palma.

This Foundation – headed by Antonia Varela, PhD. in Astrophysics from the Institute of Astrophysics
of the Canary Islands – has different goals, among others:

  • The protection of the night sky.
  • The cultural dissemination of astronomy.
  • The local sustainable economic development through astrotourism.

To achieve these objectives, the international Starlight Certification system has been created by the
Starlight Foundation.

This is a certification system whereby those areas that have excellent sky quality and represent an
example of protection and conservation are accredited.

Steps to protect the sky by means of proper night lighting

According to Antonia Varela during an interview granted to Televes, the following actions should be taken for an excellent protection of the night sky and, therefore, for public administrations to obtain such certification:

  1. Engineers specialized in either public or private lighting prepare a lighting project including information on the area to be lit, the goals to be reached, and a technical paper.
  2. Then, the project is audited, establishing specifications according to specific criteria on luminaires and distances, orientations, uniformity, smoothness, temperature, schedules, power, etc.
  3. The Starlight Foundation provides administrations with a list of luminaires complying with the organization criteria, that is, those compatible with non-pollutant lighting systems.
  4. The Foundation also offers recommendations considering parameters such as the spectral index, glow, light emitted to the upper hemisphere, etc.
  5. Finally, engineering teams complete their projects and submit them to the Starlight Foundation for some last recommendations – if necessary – or warnings if they fail to meet with regulations. They are also offered suggestions on lighting management, such as starting or intensity and brightness routines, among others.

The importance of preserving our night sky

Why is it so important to preserve the night sky? Antonia Varela explains why this is a crucial issue for today’s society.

First off, because taking care of the night sky allows for the protection of the environment, biodiversity, and, in general terms for the territory.

It also has economic implications. Efficient night lighting leads directly to money savings and greater energy efficiency, so institutions can reduce their expenses.

In this line, investing in the Starlight certificate brings about a number of benefits to attract funding for infrastructure and sustainable development.

The doctor in Astrophysics also mentions astrotourism, understood as a service that boosts the creation of local jobs and attracts tourists from across the world, which is somewhat beneficial for the community.

Finally, a sky free of light pollution makes municipalities be considered intelligent and sustainable spaces that act with responsibility towards the circadian rhythms, the environment and society in general.

How can we protect the sky night lighting?

The Starlight Foundation has awarded sustainability certificates to companies that can offer lighting solutions meeting the criteria proposed for this kind of projects – as is the case of Televes.

The institution highlights the vital role these companies play in promoting innovation along with competitive prices to make this type of projects affordable.

Thanks to this technology, companies will improve the development of a sustainable market that leaves behind luminaires that don’t respect the environment.

Benefiting from a protected night sky

A night sky protected by sustainable and efficient luminaires can bring many benefits, among them:

  • Enhanced visibility. This light technology offers more comprehensive lighting, without light
    pools and dark spots. Also, it avoids los picos azules enviados al hemisferio superior y evitando
    la luz intrusa.
  • Safer streets, in terms of public safety and crossing areas where traditional luminaires that
    don’t feature ópticas dirigidas provoke glares.
  • Another key benefit is directly linked to health as, for instance, eye stress can be reduced. Different researches on circadian cycles have revealed that excessive light can be directly related to bipolar disorders; it can also affect the secretion of hormones such as melatonin or
    cortisone, which may alter our sleep.
  • In economic terms, an appropriate lighting plan may imply considerable savings for the public coffers.
  • Obviously enough, the environment is the main beneficiary of energy efficiency.
  • Last, it is also beneficial at social and cultural levels. The fact that people can have the opportunity to gaze at the sky to its full extent again, with no light pollution whatsoever, evokes a feeling of a greater quality of life and reconnection with nature.

Raúl Díaz Santos

Prescriber, Professional LED lighting