Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.
— Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Creation of Ea”
Lighting architect Rogier van der Heide gives an excellent talk on the judicious use of light and the necessity of darkness:
I’m glad he calls attention to the issue of light pollution — not just an aesthetic problem, or a hindrance to astronomers and city-dwelling admirers of the night sky, but a serious biological hazard to many species, including humans, as well. Verlyn Klinkenborg discusses the issue in National Geographic:
In most cities the sky looks as though it has been emptied of stars, leaving behind a vacant haze that mirrors our fear of the dark and resembles the urban glow of dystopian science fiction. We’ve grown so used to this pervasive orange haze that the original glory of an unlit night — dark enough for the planet Venus to throw shadows on Earth — is wholly beyond our experience, beyond memory almost. And yet above the city’s pale ceiling lies the rest of the universe, utterly undiminished by the light we waste — a bright shoal of stars and planets and galaxies, shining in seemingly infinite darkness. […]
For the past century or so, we’ve been performing an open-ended experiment on ourselves, extending the day, shortening the night, and short-circuiting the human body’s sensitive response to light. The consequences of our bright new world are more readily perceptible in less adaptable creatures living in the peripheral glow of our prosperity. But for humans, too, light pollution may take a biological toll. […]
In the end, humans are no less trapped by light pollution than the frogs in a pond near a brightly lit highway. Living in a glare of our own making, we have cut ourselves off from our evolutionary and cultural patrimony — the light of the stars and the rhythms of day and night. In a very real sense, light pollution causes us to lose sight of our true place in the universe, to forget the scale of our being, which is best measured against the dimensions of a deep night with the Milky Way — the edge of our galaxy — arching overhead.
I also recommend this gallery of breathtaking astrophotography by Phil Hart — which includes many images like this one, of bioluminescent algae under the stars and the rising moon:
It’s the darkness, of course, that reveals such radiance and beauty. Perhaps it’s time — as Carl Sagan muses, in a larger context — we stopped being afraid of the dark.