My earliest memory of looking up at the night sky was when I was a little child and my family and I had gone with great expectations to a star party to observe a meteor shower. Unfortunately, that night produced very little meteor activity and I went back home disappointed. Sensing my disappointment, my Grandmother took me to the terrace of our house and we both gazed upwards. We were treated to the sight of a bright meteor streaking across the sky. Ever so quickly my disappointment turned to amazement! Enmeshed in a city life since, where the sky was blanketed by the glare of artificial light, that connection to the night sky slowly faded.
I have always been passionate about nature and my fascination with Photography drove me to explore the natural world armed with a camera. While developing a portfolio for admission to a Photography school, I visited Kodaikanal and had a brief glimpse of the brilliance of the night sky. It was only when I moved to Ooty for a year to pursue Photography education at Light and Life Academy that I rediscovered that ‘amazement’. When I first looked up at the pristine night sky of the Nilgiris, I was enraptured. That moment reconnected me to the wonders of the Cosmos that the city had hidden from view.
Throughout human history, the night sky has served as guide, storyteller and teacher, and it continues to now be an invaluable source of information and wonder for those fortunate enough to connect with it. It is also estimated that almost 2/3 of humanity cannot even see the Milky Way anymore; what a loss!
Learning more about Astronomy and photographing the night sky gave me insight into both the importance of the night sky and the insidious problem of Light Pollution.
Light Pollution is a widespread and mostly ignored phenomenon, caused by unnecessary, excessive or misdirected outdoor lighting. It has adverse effects on the natural world, human health and astronomy. It disrupts the natural cycle of light and dark that all living beings have been used to for Millennia. This has an adverse impact on animals that use darkness as cover, disturbs bird migrations, and affects reproduction and pollination.
The effects of Night time exposure to artificial light, especially to Blue rich LEDs, are drastic and alarming to human health. It could lead to many serious health issues such as Obesity, Diabetes, Depression, Breast Cancer and more.
A large amount of energy is also wasted by inefficient lighting practices resulting in wasted expenditure and excessive carbon emissions. To add to this, it also deprives most of humanity from experiencing and connecting with a natural night sky. Simple modified lighting practices, such as shielded light fixtures, directing light downwards and using Warm LED lights, will definitely be a great help.
As an Astrophotographer, it is only natural to seek out the darkest locations to capture and experience the unspoiled brilliance of a bedazzling night sky. However, it is also essential to direct some of our attention to documenting the night sky over light polluted locations.
This will serve to bring attention to the problems caused by light pollution and will allow for chronological documentation of any positive changes made. Thereby setting an example of what can be achieved.
From my personal experience, the exposure to a truly dark sky was vital in equipping me to find features in the city nightscape that were drastically different from a location free of light pollution. I sincerely hope that drawing attention through visual documentation will encourage positive steps to minimize these differences.
The magnificence of the night sky truly changes our perspective of Life itself. Now, more than ever, understanding the Cosmic Perspective is essential.
These thoughts are best expressed in the words of the great Carl Sagan: “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Arjun Cheyyur is a Professional Photographer based in the Nilgiris, specializing in Architecture and Interior, Astro, Nature and Fine Art Photography. When he isn’t behind the Camera, he practices his music, studies the Cosmos and works closely with Nature.