Naked eye view of the Milky Way in Dwejra's 'dark sky' by Joseph Caruana
Do the stars and planets fascinate you?
Whether you enjoy lying on your back staring at the stars with your naked eye, feeling excited by your brand new telescope or if you consider yourself a seasoned astronomer, there is always the question: where can I get the best view of the night sky?
The night sky is gorgeous. Venture out and you will be amazed by just how many stars can be seen with the naked eye when there's not another light in sight. There's barely space for another star, it might seem.
But why do we see only so few stars most of the time?
This is because only the light from the brightest stars makes it to our naked eye when city lights interfere with the quality of our vision. Gradually, we are losing one of the greatest gifts man has enjoyed throughout history: the starry night.
Pretty as it may seem, this photo demonstrates the ill fate of the Maltese Islands when it comes to light pollution. Evidently, Malta has one of the highest concentration of light pollution in the world. But what, exactly, is light pollution?
Light pollution is when 'essential lighting' is too strong or misdirected, spilling into other areas which were not meant to be illuminated. Our eyes must adapt to the glare and city lighting can literally create an aura above the city. Whether the light leaks towards the sky, reflected off the ground, or intentionally directed skywards, that sky-glow hampers our view of our beautiful universe. With so much light on the ground, how is the eye to see those beautiful but tiny lights in the sky?
Where can we find dark sky over the Maltese Islands?
There are some stargazing spots on the Maltese Islands which could be enough to amaze the amateur. However, astronomers would better appreciate these other locations that can inspire awe and wonder.
Gozo and Comino are better locations than Malta since they are less developed. The blue areas in this photo indicate those areas which have almost no light pollution, therefore offering the best views of the night sky.
The largest of these includes Dwejra, in the west of Gozo. Dwejra's night sky is protected by the 2002 MEPA Gozo & Comino Local Plan which designates a number of dark sky areas around Gozo and Comino. Additionally, there is the northwest area around Gordan, the coast running from Ramla to Qala Point, and the coast running west from Mgarr ix-Xini. The east side of Comino is also designated as a dark sky protected area. For these areas, the plan states that:
"Where relevant, reflective signs shall be employed to guide driving at night, whilst the installation of lighting which is not related to aerial or maritime navigation, shall be strongly discouraged."
It is already mainly too late for Malta, but some of the darkest sky can be actually found on the coast of Manikata and Bahrija.
In Gozo, Comino and Malta, these are the best areas to visit with your telescope in hand, or if you want to experience the sky with your naked eye.
What can we do to avoid further light pollution in the Maltese Islands?
- Avoid unnecessary lighting, especially external lighting;
- Ensure lighting has a shield that directs all the light downwards where the illumination is required;
- Use lower wattage and avoid bright, white LED lights;
- Inform and educate others about the joys of the night sky and how this could be forever lost due to light pollution;
- Put pressure on your local council to reduce or remove unnecessary lighting of public monuments and church facades, especially in the late hours.
Want to know more about light pollution in the world? Check these out!
International Dark Skies Association
Globe at Night
Dark Skies Awareness
Light Pollution Map
The New World Atlas of artificial night sky brightness