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Losing the Night Sky – A Film Screening of “The City Dark”

1200 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

On May 10th, 2012 DoSER and the American Astronomical Society hosted a screening of the award-winning documentary “The City Dark: a search for night on a planet that never sleeps.” We explored how the advent of electricity and artificial light has shaped modern society and why dark skies and celestial vistas may be a surprisingly important part of life.

Without a doubt, the advent of artificial lighting in the mid-1800s has utterly revolutionized society, and it has indeed brought with it many positive changes. But with 24-hour lighting, particularly in urban areas, comes severe light pollution that blocks our view of the night sky – a view that for millennia human beings before us took for granted. The screening of “The City Dark” (52 min) was followed by a discussion in which our expert panelists shared their thoughts on how losing darkness affects our science, spirituality, and health – in short, what do we lose when we lose the night sky, and what we can do about it?

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Video Menu:

  • Opening Remarks: 00:01 - 10:07
  • Debra Meloy Elmegreen: 10:07 - 18:58
  • Robert Morrison: 18:58 - 27:50
  • Charles A. Czeiler: 27:53 - 41:53
  • Chad Moore: 41:57 - 49:10
  • Discussion: 49:18 - 1:08:43

View the trailer for “The City Dark"

Opening Remarks: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, Program Director, AAAS Dialogue on Science Ethics and Religion 


Chad Moore, National Park Service, Night Skies program manager

Chad Moore has a Master’s degree in Earth Science, but spends much of his time looking up into the night sky. Since youth he has had an interest in starlight and how it shapes our lives. Since 1999 Chad has lead the NPS Night Skies Program— a team of scientists that document the loss of the night due to light pollution and help parks lay a course for the restoration of natural lightscapes. Their work takes them to remote mountaintops and some of the darkest places remaining in the country; and into communities where new concepts in lighting can be applied to protect parks. The Night Skies Program also follows the evidence for disruption of nocturnal habitat by artificial lighting. Chad’s hope is that Americans will always have a place they can visit and see beyond the planet and glimpse the larger cosmos.

Charles A. Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D., F.R.C.P., Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine and Director, Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Dr. Czeisler’s laboratory research is focused on understanding the neurobiology of the human circadian pacemaker and its interaction with the sleep homeostat, and on applying that knowledge to clinical medicine and occupational health. Ongoing research in the lab includes examining the influence of chronic sleep restriction on human performance, the influence of space flight on sleep and circadian rhythms and the application of his research to night workers-including medical residents and police-through the work of the Harvard Work Hours, Health and Safety Group. Dr. Czeisler recently discussed why we are sleeping less now than we did a generation ago due to ubiquitous artificial light and the negative health effects of this trend atTEDxCambridge.

Robert Morrison, Ph.D., M.Phil., Associate Professor of Religion, Bowdoin College

Robert Morrison is Associate Professor of Religion at Bowdoin College. Morrison’s scholarship crosses a number of boundaries, such as science and religion, and Judaism and Islam, with a particular focus on early medieval Islamic science. His research has focused on the role of science in Islamic and Jewish texts, as well as in the history of Islamic science. Morrison has contributed the chapters on Islamic astronomy to the New Cambridge History of Islam and the Cambridge History of Science, and in 2009, his book Islam and Science: The Intellectual Career of Nizam al-Din al-Nisaburi (Routledge, 2007) was selected as one of Iran’s 2009 International Books of the Year in Islamic Studies.

Debra Elmegreen, Ph.D., President of the American Astronomical Society and Maria Mitchell Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College

Debra Elmegreen is President of the American Astronomical Society, the major organization of professional astronomers in North America and co-sponsor of the event. Elmegreen is also the Maria Mitchell Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College. Her research interests include structure, interactions, and star formation in galaxies in the local universe and at high redshift, and she observes in optical, near-infrared, and radio wavelengths. She was invited to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy at the Vatican Observatory in Oct. 2009, including a visit with Pope Benedict XVI.