Who needs street lights, anyway?

SIR - What an absolutely wonderful treat the towns and villages of North Devon have in store for them if the street lights are turned off in the early hours of the morning. Preferably it will be from midnight. Who needs them on anyway? Only skulking bu

SIR - What an absolutely wonderful treat the towns and villages of North Devon have in store for them if the street lights are turned off in the early hours of the morning. Preferably it will be from midnight.

Who needs them on anyway? Only skulking burglars, perhaps, because unless they have some very legitimate business, nobody else is walking around at that time of day.

The cloudless night sky, unpolluted by unnecessary light from needlessly lit empty roads, will offer a panoramic aspect of galaxies and nebulae hitherto unseen by so many townsfolk.

This vast planetarium above us, shaped over a billion years, is the twinkling history of us all. It is a light show impossible to parallel with clumsy technology, and just one glance above our heads unveils a presentation of the whole of creation from prehistory to the present time.


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It is our insight into a distant past so incomprehensibly long ago that we cannot grasp the immensity of it, and it provides a glimpse into a future to a time when mankind will have been extinct for longer than the existence of the solar system itself.

As a species, we are just a flash in the pan. Looking into that stellar ocean reminds us that we may endure for no longer than the blink of an eyelid, if only we could see the heavens properly.

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And we cannot because dazzling artificial light denies us our right to gaze into this abyss. Until we get rid of needless sodium lamps, blazing shopfronts and garish neon advertising signs we will never clearly see the evidence of breathtakingly distant stars that were destroyed even before the first living cell divided on earth, and which were blasted apart in massive explosions and vaporised in balls of flame a million miles wide,

Incredibly, they can still be seen in their tranquil state because these cataclysmic events happened hundreds, maybe thousands of light years ago.

Moreover, all the components and chemicals that somehow resolved themselves into our bungling mass of humanity that so desperately resides on earth now originates from out there in that endless black expanse, the parameters of which cannot be conceived by human understanding or intellect.

The majority of adults and children living in the UK will have seen little more on a dark night than the familiar sight of the moon, but the street lamp switch off could mean that for the first time in some people's lives they will see the great constellations of the Great Bear, the Plough and the Swan.

The experience of seeing this vista will give children the opportunity to tell their teachers that over the weekend they have seen the Milky Way, and they won't mean the amusement park near Clovelly.

As adults, we will all feel humbled beneath the universe as we gaze at Venus, Mars and Jupiter, all visible without telescopes, and, overwhelmed by the night sky's grandeur, wonder if we ourselves are being watched.

We will view the cavernous darkness in the way that itinerant Arabs still see it today from their Saharan camps and, in the same way as did our ancestors, from the earliest cavemen to the early Victorians. Given a street light ban we might marvel at the stillness and complexity of the cosmos. We will share the awe of the Egyptian pharaoh and the medieval peasant.

Our own personal sojourn here on earth is a short one, and stargazing is a reminder of how ephemeral life is. Against the panoply of infinite space our daily problems shrink to nothing and we have a right to see the stars, so switch those lights out!

By the way, I'm a torch manufacturer. (I'm not really!)

Dave Griffin,

Ilfracombe.

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