The Sciences

Lights Out in Iceland

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitSep 28, 2006 7:59 PM


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This is simply too cool: Reykjavik, Iceland is turning its lights out on Thursday night. Why?

Authorities in the capital Reykjavik will turn off street lights on Thursday evening and people are also being encouraged to sit in their houses in the dark, writer Andri Snaer Magnason said on Wednesday. While the lights are out, an astronomer will describe the night sky over national radio.

What a wonderful idea! It's only for a half hour, so there won't be a big negative impact, and that's long enough for people to get dark adapted... in fact, I bet a lot of them will be disappointed when the lights go back on. What an amazing thing to do, and how I wish it could happen here in the States. I think one of the problems in our society today is -- seriously -- we've lost touch with nature. As an amateur astronomer, I cannot tell you how many times I've let people look through my telescope, only to have them disbelieve what they are seeing (more than once I've seen kids look into the top of the telescope, thinking I hung a picture of Saturn there). Most people in this country have no idea what a truly dark sky looks like. The ironic thing is, without seeing it for yourself, you have no idea what you're missing. It's truly an awe-inspiring site, one that can move you emotionally, bring a lump to your throat. I'm not just blowing smoke here: I've seen this reaction in people many times. I wrote about it, a few years ago. I wonder-- maybe the Dark Sky Association could try to do this here. Small towns, or maybe ones that lean toward the green end of the spectrum, would be more willing to try it. I think I'd be happy to throw my weight, FWIW, behind something like this.

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