British Columbia

Throwing a star-party: Filmmaker chronicles fight against light pollution

When is the last time you saw the Milky Way? A new documentary highlights how Canadians are affected by light pollution — and a group of ambassadors devoted to preserving the night sky.

New documentary Ambassadors of the Sky highlights efforts to preserve views of the night sky

Less than one per cent of Canadians can see the Milky Way regularly, according to the Weather Network. (Anne Dirkse/Flickr)

The Milky Way is a sight to marvel — in all its glory, the human eye can observe thousands of its seemingly endless stars that span across the dark sky in one creamy stroke.

But less than one per cent of Canadians get to witness it regularly, according to some studies.

And the Journal of Science Advances reports that 80 per cent of all North Americans — and one third of all human beings — can't see it at all due to light pollution.

But there are groups of people dedicated to preserving the night sky in Canada, and they're the subject of a new documentary by filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk, titled Ambassadors of the Sky

The idea took root when she visited the Jasper Dark Sky Festival — an annual gathering of stargazers trying to evade the side effects of human-made light.

"I found out there [were] star parties across Alberta and B.C. and that fighting light pollution was a big thing that they were trying to do," she said. "I thought this would be a really good idea for a film."

The bright lights — and cloudy skies — in Vancouver results in few visible stars to gaze upon. (Michael Nugent/Flickr)

Star parties are gatherings in designated dark areas — pristine places where there's hardly any light pollution. Preserves include McDonald Park in the Fraser Valley, as well as Jasper and Wood Buffalo parks in Alberta.

"People hang out, they talk about the sky ... some people just observe in their telescopes," she said. "It's just a big place to get together and share a passion."

Some of the attendees are what Yanchyk calls ambassadors of the sky — volunteers who travel from star-party to star-party to educate communities about the importance of a dark sky and the consequences of light pollution.

Studies suggest that light pollution has a negative affect on the migration patterns of some birds, and some have even found links to increased risks of cancer in humans.

Not to mention, there's a spiritual connection humans have to the stars that is being threatened, says Yanchyk .

"There's something very magical about being in darkness and just looking up in the stars — I mean, its part of us."

Ambassadors of the Sky is now airing on CBC's Documentary channel.

It is also available to stream online.

With files from CBC's North by Northwest

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Filmmaker follows the fight against light pollution in new documentary Ambassadors of the Sky