A special thing about living in central New Jersey is our night skies– or rather, the quality of our night skies given our proximity to two major American cities. Because while the bustle of a city is fun and exciting, cities are also very bright and cast a glow into the sky that makes stargazing essentially impossible. This phenomenon of artificial light bouncing around in the atmosphere and obscuring objects in space is called light pollution, and it has become a problem as our light-infused society moves closer and closer to experiencing 24/7 day. Now, dark skies are harder to find, and we’re lucky to see what we do here. But even our nighttime views could be in peril due to residential and commercial over-lighting and use of inefficient lighting practices. Let’s discuss the ways in which we, here in Hopewell, are inadvertently ruining our experience of the cosmos– and how we can reverse these (and other) effects to appreciate our vast universe a little more.

Take a drive around Mercer and Hunterdon counties and you’ll understand why New Jersey is called the Garden State– we’re full of surprisingly rural farmland. This bodes well for our ability to see the night sky, since the less densely packed our buildings and infrastructure are, the less light we pump into the atmosphere. But we’re still not out of the clear– a quick look at a light pollution map tells us that the Bortle dark sky rating for Hopewell is a 5, where the most polluted skies are a 9 and the darkest skies are a 1. While we can see a lot when we look up, we’re also missing a lot. Have you ever seen the clear and defined Milky Way from your backyard in the borough? Probably not. And not only does light pollution impact nighttime views, but it also disrupts our circadian rhythms and hormone balances in ways that are harmful to our health.

Our bodies rely on the daily cycle of light and dark to function at their best. These day/night processes are regulated by our circadian rhythm, which tells us when to wake and sleep based on light. But when light leeches into our nighttime lives– whether it be from our screens, or from that streetlight outside your bedroom window– it can throw our bodies and their interconnected systems into disarray. Increased light at night decreases melatonin production, causing sleeplessness, anxiety, and fatigue. There is also a link between lower melatonin levels and a higher growth rate of cancer. Decreasing light pollution can help balance our body systems, and will leave us healthier and happier in the long run.

So what can we do in Hopewell to reduce light pollution, see more of our night sky, and take care of our bodies? On an individual basis, replacing lighting around your house with fixtures that fully shield the bulb from the sky will minimize scattered light into the sky and your home. The best light fixture is one that completely blocks your view of the bulb– thus eliminating glare that makes visibility painful and pollutes the sky. Also consider switching to yellower bulbs, as warmer colored light isn’t as harmful to our bodies or to the sky. If you feel safer from crime illuminating your home at night, here’s a gentle reminder that studies show no correlation between crime and lighting. In fact, lighting can make it easier for burglars and vandals to see and navigate their targets. To make sure your walkways are safe when you walk on them, well-shielded and motion-activated lights directed towards the ground make a good, sky-friendly solution, but night-long lighting will only serve to hurt your body and our skies. Part of the joy of living in Hopewell is the dark and quiet of the nights. Let’s make sure we’re working together to protect that!

On a bigger scale, keep an eye out for proposed lighting legislature, and make sure to support systematic efforts to preserve, and even improve, Hopewell’s health and views of our cosmos. Some of the biggest contributors of light pollution are poorly designed street lights and parking lot/commercial lighting, which won’t be improved overnight. But our existing lighting ordinances here are a testament to our desire to protect our skies, and we should never miss an opportunity to use our voices to improve them. Let’s keep Hopewell a dark and beautiful refuge in the middle of a bright and busy state, and do what we can to keep ourselves healthy and our stars bright.

Submitted by Becca Michelson. Michelson is a recent graduate of Hopewell Valley Central High School and currently enrolled at Smith College in Northampton, MA.

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