No bright stars
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No bright stars

Comet 46P/Wirtanen, which made a close approach to earth last December, is seen passing by the Pleiades star cluster.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen, which made a close approach to earth last December, is seen passing by the Pleiades star cluster.

The three wise men have surprisingly found their way from distant lands to the village of Għajnsielem. I find this remarkable for such is the dearth of stars visible from this village that these seasoned stargazers must have had little hope of resorting to celestial navigation to find their way to the manger, contrary to how the story goes.

There was a special visitor in our skies last month: a comet faintly glowing with a beautiful, green tinge. Attempts to acquire a decent view of it from Għajnsielem were swiftly crushed.

Last year, I wrote to draw attention to light pollution issues plaguing this otherwise charming Gozitan village. In particular, I focused on two outrageously bright, poorly thought out, ad hoc lighting installations in one of Għajnsielem’s streets (Triq il-Gudja), the principal achievement of which is that of blinding any approaching car drivers and impeding a good night’s sleep to many a local resident. They are by no means the sole example of poor lighting in this village but perhaps one of the most stupidly garish.

The adverse effects of poorly-designed artificial lighting, not just in terms of hindering astronomical observation but also with regard to the impact on human health and nocturnal wildlife, had been outlined in that piece. Regretfully, however, again I find myself having to draw attention to the exact same lighting fixtures which, while still brightly shining, are certainly not contributing to any holy nights, definitely not for the residents, at least.

While Gozo’s night sky remains darker than Malta’s, to this day, Għajnsielem remains the second most light-polluted spot on the smaller island (the first being Victoria). In certain areas, it even matches some of the worst-affected regions in Malta, as is evidenced by night sky brightness measurements taken all over the Maltese archipelago by our students as part of their University research projects.

Lest I be misunderstood, there is nothing wrong with traditions, celebrations and occasional pageantry. It is when the latter takes priority, be it financial or otherwise, over immediate issues that affect residents on a daily basis that one has to wonder whether the local council cares for anything more than ceremonies and outward appearances, especially when the solutions for said issues are simple ones indeed. Local councils can help make a positive difference by utilising properly-designed lighting fixtures.

Twelve months have passed and nothing about this dire situation has changed for the better. How many more months will it take to change a light bulb? Or perhaps, the better question to ask would be: how many wise men does it take to change a light bulb?

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