The light's bright trespassing


[Image: A house that "sits in front of a baseball/soccer field in the small town of Amenia, New York," and whose owners probably don't sleep too well; photo by David Allee].

With apologies for BLDGBLOG's recent silence – very few posts in at least as many days – I also want to point out something I've written for Inhabitat, and which went up today, about light pollution, urban astronomy, the mating habits of glowworms, hunting by floodlight and some photographs by David Allee.
And I'll start posting again on BLDGBLOG soon...

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14 Comments:

Anonymous John Devlin said...

Geoff: have you seen the beautiful (suspect word these days) twilight/moonlit photos of Cambridge (UK) taken by Sean McHugh using long exposure times?
http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/
PS Have you thought of doing a piece on word verification fonts and how they are generated? I find them quite aesthetic and interesting in their own right.

February 07, 2006 6:45 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

No - but I have seen them now...

And word verification fonts - a phrase with a slight aura of redundancy to it (surely all words should be verified by the fonts they appear in...?) - are, indeed, fascinating. But not for BLDGBLOG. Building verification diagrams, on the other hand...

February 07, 2006 3:46 PM  
Blogger Timo Tolonen said...

Really good post, thanks.

Light pollution is something that I was extremely worried about moving into London, as one of my favorite past times at nights coming back from work/the pub is, quite simply put, to look up. Luckily the area I live in is quite dark at nights so you do get to see the stars, though the amount is limited by the ever-present ambient light of a big city.

There is a tennis field next to the train track that I pass every day/night when going to and coming back from work. The light quite literally blinds you if you look straight at it. A very surreal experience to see these people playing tennis in effectively dailylight while the rest of the world around them is a black void...

Also, I'm sure there is a day in the year where people are requested to turn off/down the lights to appreciate the night sky. Don't ask me what country, though.

February 08, 2006 9:25 AM  
Blogger Timo Tolonen said...

Wikipedia to the rescue.

And it's a week, not a day, it seems.

February 08, 2006 9:31 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Hey Timo, thanks - I think BLDGBLOG is officially endorsing National Dark Sky Week from now on, in fact. Definitely endorsing that.

I think it would be funny, meanwhile, if you did actually achieve true dark skies over a major metropolitan area - but kids, or grown adults, people who had never seen stars till then, start screaming. They think it's lights in the sky, an alien invasion... "What is that?"

Anyway -

February 08, 2006 12:54 PM  
Anonymous sz said...

Great article on on the overabundance of artificial night lighting. I went to grad school in Tucson, and I really appreciated how dark it was at night due to the astronomer-friendly streetlight regulations. Where we live now is fairly dark as well due to the lower population density, but the sky is seldom as clear as it was in the sonoran desert.

I also remember how surreal it was when I was an undergrad at the University of Oklahoma and they sports department installed
the brightest stadium lights I'd ever seen. They would leave them on half the night and generated what were essentially daylight conditions for a quarter mile around the stadium. David Allee's pictures are familiar - but not bright enough to
capture just how otherworldly the resultant environment was.

I wonder how the internal biochemical cycles of temperate bird species exposed to permanent night-time lighting compare to the cycles of related birds that migrate to the far arctic/antarctic for the nightless summer?

Are you, by chance, referencing the Isaac Asimov story "Nightfall" in your last comment?

February 08, 2006 1:08 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

I wasn't, actually - is that what that story is about? I'll have to read it.

It would be interesting to see if those birds that migrate to more arctic climes, and are thus exposed to the "midnight sun," as you mentioned, might actually start reversing their migration: they fly toward Tucson stadium lights, toward London, to the World Cup in Berlin, whole cycles confused and inverted. Disrupted. The focus of the route exchanged.

Or, as I mention in my birds post, perhaps they'd circle aimlessly above the canyons of New York, unable to mate. Orphans of nonhuman species, fatally attracted to the light traps of Man... New genetic islands form.

Or only blind birds survive, and are able to mate - evolving new species.

February 08, 2006 1:22 PM  
Anonymous sz said...

Nightfall isn't about artificial lighting - but the scenario is bizarrely similar.

Inobviously, research indicates light-sensitive responses in blind creatures. Apparently internal cycles are affected by light falling on the skin as well as the eyes.

And I suspect that blind birds have other problems....

In an increasingly human-defined environment, it should not surprise us that our population centers also become focal points for animal activity. Food in the form of raw materials and waste products stream into and out of our cities. Larger animals that are trapped and fenced away from agriculture are able to live in cities as long as they are not overly visible to the human population. (Now I feel like I'm invoking PomPoko.) If you can figure out some way to quantify evolutionary influence, humanity's effect must be continuously rising across the globe.

February 08, 2006 2:44 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

I tried to write a little bit about animals finding unexpected eco-niches in the city with an earlier post, Simian Urbanism. There was a definite part of me, vis-a-vis that post, that was hoping Peter Jackson's new King Kong would somehow, however subtly, amp-up the exotic-animal-in-the-big-city theme... Alas. The film was insanely disappointing. I wouldn't even say it was good, frankly. My point was/is that you could view the whole King Kong myth as a kind of urban ecosystem v. Edenic ecosystem story, a confrontation of gene pools and types of biological environments.

Which is actually the subtext to the whole ebola story, which fascinates me: ebola, the disease, naturally occurs in areas where humans hadn't been settling. Mountain caves and what not. But now that humans are spreading into areas they hadn't previously touched, these weird diseases jump the species barrier and start tearing us apart. That's a highly truncated version of the history of ebola, of course, but hey. I'm running out the door.

February 08, 2006 3:09 PM  
Blogger Timo Tolonen said...

Hey Geoff, just thought I'd let you know that inspired by your post, I posted a little post on metafilter about it.

Check out the comments for some great additional links about light pollution.

February 09, 2006 4:31 AM  
Blogger Timo Tolonen said...

Also, I'd like to apologise for the excessive use of the word 'post' above. It's early and I'm wired on too much caffeine and nicotine.

February 09, 2006 4:32 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Timo - Indeed you did! I owe you thanks once again. There's a chance I'm going to be on Resonance FM in your neck of the woods tomorrow, circa 2-3pm GMT. A show about 'urban dreams/urban nightmares'. So if you're near an antenna check it out...

Thanks again for the MeFi link. Feel free to post anything else to it in future, hint-hint...

How's the film career?

February 09, 2006 11:57 AM  
Blogger Timo Tolonen said...

Cool. Resonance has an online webcast as well so if my sieve of a brain remembers I'll check it out at work tomorrow.

The film career is showing signs of life again, as that Manchester film fest is coming up at the start of next month. Exciting stuff. Will be making my way up that way to be there to witness people voluntarily paying money to see my film (among others).

Also, I have been lumped in the "4 countries 1 cinema" category. The 4 countries being England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Wonder if I should tell them that I'm actually Finnish? Heh.

February 09, 2006 12:39 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Timo - Was indeed on the radio today, so... I can't tell if it will be MP3'd anywhere, but - with the exception of my part - it was an interesting show. What will London look like in 100 years? 100,000 years? 1,000 million? Etc. Ballard quotations, ambient music, sociologists, agricultural utopias and so forth. A new card game about London architecture, by the same guy who did this mouse spine image.

Anyway, good news about the film. Hope to see it released stateside, with flashing lights. Er - not so many lights, I guess, light trespass being an issue.

Interesting thought: would cinema be banned as a form of light pollution? The ultimate insult: your film's just a bunch of light pollution...

February 10, 2006 2:05 PM  

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