Hundreds of years ago, views like this were a dime a dozen.
These days, thanks to the ubiquity of artificial light (Good for many reasons! Love being able to read things after 8 p.m.! Thanks, Thomas Edison!), it’s hard to get a clear view of the night sky unless you’re lucky enough to be camping on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere on a cloudless night.
Or unless you live in Iceland.
Last night, with an especially powerful aurora in the forecast, the Reykjavik City Council did something that, on a normal day, might have led to a flood of angry letters or, at the very least, some serious side-eye: They turned off the lights.
Between 10 p.m. and midnight, all the streetlights in town went dark to give residents the best possible view of the northern lights.
And … well.
“[I’d] never before seen anything like it,” said Rodrigo Alfaro, an Argentinian photojournalist traveling in Iceland.
“Intense northern lights in the middle of the city, with clear sky and many people in the streets despite the cold watching.”
The city encouraged private homeowners and businesses to do the same.
While not all did, the effect gave residents an as-close-as-possible-in-a-major-city-in-2016 approximation of a world before ubiquitous electric light.
According to the International Dark-Sky Association, excessive light pollution can create problems beyond obscuring the sublime majesty of solar light gently screwing up Earth’s magnetosphere.
For many animal species, which depend on natural light cycles to determine when it’s day and when it’s night, too much rogue brightness can disrupt sleep, breeding, migration, and hunting patterns.
But there’s good news! It doesn’t require the city-wide initiative of a forward-thinking Nordic local government to fix the problems caused by light pollution.
Things like shielding exterior home lights, tinting them red or yellow, and facing them down instead of up can help minimize bleed and reduce their impact on local wildlife.
The best part? Dimming the lights every so often might even help clarify what the people of Iceland discovered on a clear September night not too long ago.
The universe is really pretty sweet.