A collaboration with DiaV, Noche Zero is the first international event dedicated to celebrating dark skies and protecting our view of the stars. It aims to connect and educate lighting designers, astronomers, dark sky campaigners and others interested in the role that the night sky plays in contemporary life.
16 – 18 OCT ’12
SAN PEDRO, ATACAMA, CHILE
The lighting community has been talking a lot about darkness of late. About how we've lost our connection to the night sky and therefore the universe, about how light pollution effects our health, our ecology and our view of the stars. We know that upwards of 60% of the worlds population have never seen the Milky Way and almost two thirds of the world live in areas where the night sky is brighter than the threshold for light-polluted status set by the International Astronomical Union. We also know that by 2050, 70% of the world will live in cities where light pollution is at its worst. As urban populations expand rapidly and the global population migrate to our cities, there is more need than ever to embrace darkness. Its not simply about Light pollution, we need to understand how to manage the balance of light and dark within future cities. Light plays a very important role in our lives but we need to get to a point where its application is about the right amount of light, in the right place, at the right time. We need to do this in order to reclaim our connection to the stars.
Two years ago, Paulina Villalobos of DIAV, a lighting consultancy based in Santiago asked us to help her realise her dream of hosting a darkness event in Chile and in October 2012, we were pleased to be part of the first Noche Zero. Created by DIAV and Light Collective in conjunction with UCN, Noche Zero was designed to be an inspirational event; an educational summit and darkness experience held in San Pedro in the Atacama desert. With lighting heavyweight speakers like Mark Major and Kauro Mende lined up next to National Geographic Photographer Jim Richardson and Massimo Terrenghi, the head of the European Southern Observatories in Chile, this collaboration was targeted at an international group of influential people working in and linked to urban lighting design. The aim was to connect the groups interested in this topic, to celebrate darkness and to create a joined up methodology for light and urban design in order to help preserve the night sky in contemporary cities. Noche Zero invited the lighting and astronomical communities to work together.
In order to do this we started with by challenging the conventional – why is it that, 95% of the time, whenever we attend a lighting conference it is held in the most uninspiring space possible? Whenever we talk about daylight why do we do it in a dark room with terrible lighting and little or no design quality? When Paulina Villalobos conceived Noche Zero it was essential that it was held in the Atacama Desert in the North of Chile. The reason for this? The Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth with the clearest sky on the planet and one of the world’s epicentres for astronomical observation. The most stunning starry skies had to be the backdrop to this opportunity to hear the multiple viewpoints of leading experts and for participants to contribute to a new way of treating and understanding the role of darkness in urban lighting design. It wasn’t just about getting the right people together, it was about creating an experience for everyone who attended (including the speakers) so that we could inspire them and send them away to talk about the views of the other speakers.
This mixture of opinion and viewpoint was essential. The event wasn’t just about the problems of light pollution, is was about the how good lighting design can be used to create beautiful spaces that respect and preserve the night sky. The assembled speaker covered a myriad of topics related to this subject.
The presentations from Mark Major and Karou Mende both showed how sensitive professional design can create magical spaces for people to enjoy but also maintain a sense of darkness and control. When asked about the most unexpected part of Noche Zero Mark Major said “I have often spoken about the values of darkness at lighting conferences in the past. When I was preparing to speak at Noche Zero I found myself getting ready to defend the values of light! I suppose that was because as a lighting designer I approached my meeting with so many eminent astronomers, scientists and dark skies campaigners with some trepidation. So the most unexpected element of the whole event was to find how like-minded we all were in not only wishing to tackle the issues of light pollution, over-lighting and unwanted impacts on bio-diversity but also in sharing real passion for light itself.”
These insights inspired Bob Parks, the head of the International Dark Skies association (IDA) and he wants to pass on the message to his members. His presentation covered the many initiatives and activities that the IDA is involved in that ranges from practical lighting guidance through to inspirational star gazing activities. The IDA website is a mine of information and background.
The science and ecology communities were represented by Professor George Brainard, speaking about the effect of light on humans and Alvaro Boehmwald who talked about nighttime biodiversity in general. One of the main points that we picked up from this is that all light has an effect on all living things. It is spectral dependents and for the majority of animals (humans included), light at the blue end of the spectrum is most significant in its adverse impact. It was eye opening to learn that even uplighting to tree has an effect on their growth and function as a living organism. The current trend towards replacing lighting in cities with cool white LED light that is very heavy at the blue end of the spectrum is something that needs to be seriously addressed in light of the scientific evidence currently emerging. Professor Brainard closed with a frightening analogy between the effects of passive smoking, ignored for many years, and the potential effects of passive lighting.
Equally inspiring was the insight into the world of astronomy and the night sky. The speakers all benefitted from a visit to ESO on the day before the event started. A vast array of radio telescopes is being constructed in the mountains above San Pedro. An array that will have the ability to see further and more clearly into space than any other facility, by a factor of 60! This array will even perform better than the Hubble Space Telescope. The most impressive fact was that the astronomers in charge of this life long mission believe that they will soon have the ability to see the oldest light source in the universe – the original source. How can anyone who is interested in light fail to be moved by the potential of this stunning achievement?
As well as being able to get out a see the Milky Way the audience and speakers were also allowed to see the night sky through the eyes of National Geographic Photographer Jim Richardson, whose article “The End of Night” captured light pollution around the USA and raised awareness of the issue on a global scale. Ian Cheney, Director and Producer of The City Dark, a film about his own realisation of how he had lost contact with the night sky when moving into New York shared his insights into man’s need for darkness.
Noche Zero was more than just a meeting, event, seminar and workshop – it was the experience of a lifetime. For more information about the program and its sponsors check the web site – www.nochezero.org – the aim is to create an ongoing resource to continue the work started in the Atacama Desert.
Noche Zero 2015 is part of the Official Activities Program of L-RO as part of IYL 2015.