How's your night sky look?

Google recently produced a new layer on Google Maps which overlays NASA's stunning new image of Earth at night.  Find your city on the map (you may need to zoom out a bit to see the new layer) - how does it stack up?  Now go check out Flagstaff, AZ.  It's barely there, right?  That's because Flagstaff is the world's first International Dark Sky City.

The International Dark Sky Association is a movement aimed at preserving the night sky in populated areas.  Cities often install large decorative light fixtures which release light in all directions.  Not only do these lights reduce our view of the sky, any light emitted upwards is wasted and just costs the city money.  The simple step of beginning to install lights which only emit downwards can save money, increase the effectiveness of the light, and preserve the natural beauty of the sky.

In order to be recognized as a dark sky city, Flagstaff had to go one step further.  All municipal lights in the city (street lights, etc) use a technology called low-pressure sodium.  These lights cast a soothing yellow glow that's much more conducive to seeing the night sky than the typical white lights.  In addition, nighttime use of outdoor neon lights for businesses has been restricted.  The result?  This city of 65,000 has an unparalleled urban view of the stars.

Want to learn more about the harmful effects (both physical and emotional) of light pollution?  Check out a documentary called The City Dark - it's well worth an hour of your time.