Dark Matters offers life lessons about light pollution

Joan Marie Galat combines memoir and science in 18th book

On a winter road trip one night through the frozen black of rural Alberta, Joan Marie Galat remembers being mesmerized by an “eerie orange glow” as they approached Vegreville.

Galat, who was 10 years old at the time, quickly realized it wasn’t the sun rising – or the giant Easter egg for which the town is famous – but the looming lights of Vegreville itself. Then, as they passed through and made their way toward Edmonton, she could see the bright lights of the capital city from 50 kilometres away.

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This kind of light pollution over cities is called “sky glow,” a phenomenon that can make stargazing all-but impossible. The experience stuck with Galat (Biological Sciences Technology - Environmental Sciences ’84) and helped spark a lifelong interest in astronomy, and science in general.

In her new book, Dark Matters, Galat explains for readers 9 and older what light is, why it appears in certain colours – but more importantly, why too much is disruptive to people and nature.

Galat blends storytelling and facts to explain the impact of light pollution, from sea turtles confused by beachfront lights, to insect populations that shrink because light impairs their ability to find food, to birds and bats that can have difficulty trying to migrate, to light-intensive commercial fishing that blinds marine life. She offers fascinating insights into sometimes complex topics like how light pollution interferes with the breakdown of chemicals that form smog.

Dark Matters is Galat’s 18th book and follows her children’s series, Dot to Dot in the Sky, which similarly teaches about cosmic objects and phenomena. This time, her storytelling is down to Earth and personal, often told from the perspective of her own childhood.

Galat shares memories, such as when on a trip to the World Trade Center in New York she found an injured bird that smashed into a window – a symptom of light pollution’s impact on migratory flight paths.

Her memories are sweet and often poetic, blended with enough facts to make them relatable.

Her memories are sweet and often poetic, blended with enough facts to make them relatable for readers young or old. At 13, she shares how stargazing away from the city’s glare nurtured her growing interest in science.

“When there’s no Moon, I can see the Milky Way – our very own galaxy. It looks like a pathway of light through the sky. It’s dark enough for me to make out the place where the galaxy separates into two roadways of light.”

Galat also offers advice on how to help curb light pollution from the simple “turn off the lights” to talk to your local politician about legislative changes. Most importantly, she advises, enjoy the dark.

“Look up at the stars, the planets, and our own Milky Way galaxy. Smell the white and yellow flowers opening their petals for nighttime pollinators. Listen to the owls … the night is another world, only a light switch away.”

What you can do to turn off light pollution

  • Turn off the lights! Avoid using them whenever safety is not a concern
  • Conserve energy by using the lowest wattage possible.
  • Use motion sensors instead of leaving on outdoor lights.
  • Don't plug in more lights because you’re using LED lights; pocket the savings instead.

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