Photographing Death Valley’s starry skies shines a light on pollution


As an artist-in-residence at Death Valley National Park, photographer Harun Mehmedinović captured images of its night skies and increasing light pollution. In this snowy shot, he caught both stars and, on the right, the glow of the city of Las Vegas.


DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL Park is a land of extremes.

Stretching from California to Nevada, and encompassing the Mojave and Colorado deserts, it’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states. And the hottest: This month it charted a record-breaking August air temperature of 130°F at Furnace Creek, a natural oasis. The highest recorded air temperature—a scorching 134°—was recorded in the same place in 1913.

While the environmental challenge of extreme heat wallops the park by day, Death Valley faces another issue at night: light pollution, caused by the nocturnal glow of Las Vegas and surrounding cities. Excessive artificial light not only disrupts how we view stars and planets, but researchers have also found that it affects plants and wildlife. Nocturnal creatures such as bats and moths, which pollinate cacti, prefer to forage in low-light conditions. Scientists from Exeter University found that cacti bathed primarily in artificial light were 62 percent less likely to be pollinated.

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