© Thierry Cohen, "San Francisco 37° 48' 30'' N 2010-10-09 lst 20:58", courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
If you live in a heavily populated area, chances are you don't see the stars in the night sky all that often. Light pollution in cities and large towns turns the sky into a hazy, detail-free area.
So what are we missing?
Well, these beautiful and cleverly executed photos from French photographer Thierry Cohen should give you some idea. The series is called 'Darkened Cities', and it imagines what the skies over major cities around the world would look like if all the lights went out.
© Thierry Cohen, "Shanghai 31° 14' 39'' N 2012-03-19 lst 14:42", courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
Cohen produced the images by travelling to places far from each city, but on the same latitude. He took photographs of the night sky far from the light pollution of the cities, and then composited them with digitally manipulated images of cities in darkness.
The result is these haunting shots of cities lit only by the stars. It's a thought-provoking look at what all the electric light we pour into the sky is obscuring.
© Thierry Cohen, "São Paulo 23° 32' 09'' S 2011-06-07 lst 11:52", courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
Light pollution doesn't just ruin the view for humans, though. According to National Geographic, "we've lit up the night as if it were an unoccupied country, when nothing could be further from the truth."
© Thierry Cohen, "Rio de Janeiro 22° 56' 42'' S 2011-06-04 lst 12:34", courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
Overlit cities have a profound effect on nocturnal species. A few examples: birds migrating at night are "apt to collide with brightly lit tall buildings," insects cluster around streetlights, changing the feeding habits of species that eat them, and desert rodents, fruit bats, opossums and badgers "forage more cautiously under the permanent full moon of light pollution because they've become easier targets for predators."
And another mammal that may be affected by all the extra light is the human being. The National Geographic article says "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."
© Thierry Cohen, "Paris 48° 51' 52'' N 2021-07-14 utc 22:18", courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
So although Cohen's photographs look like they were taken after some major catastrophe, maybe they're more like a modest proposal. Everyone who lives in cities should agree - lights out after 8 pm, and let's all look at the stars together.
© Thierry Cohen, "Los Angeles 34° 06' 58'' N 2012-06-15 lst 14:52", courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
© Thierry Cohen, "Hong Kong 22° 16' 38'' N 2012-03-22 lst 14:00", courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
© Thierry Cohen, "Tokyo 35° 41' 36'' N 2011-11-16 lst 23:16", courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff