The beauty of the darkness: Jelte and Mees (17) from the Leeuwarder Lyceum saw a real starry sky for the first time at the Lauwersmeer

The beauty of the darkness: Jelte and Mees (17) from the Leeuwarder Lyceum saw a real starry sky for the first time at the Lauwersmeer
The beauty of the darkness: Jelte and Mees (17) from the Leeuwarder Lyceum saw a real starry sky for the first time at the Lauwersmeer

“Yes, we used to have a telescope in our bedroom. What boy doesn’t? It’s just very beautiful to look at the stars.”

Classmates Mees Schotanus and Jelte Bakker (both 17) both had a telescope as boys in primary school. But what they were looking for then, staring out of their boys’ rooms for evenings on end; they only found that a few weeks ago at the Lauwersmeer. “Eye-opening. Very nice to be there.”

Brightly lit greenhouses

Both boys were fascinated by astronomy at an early age. Hence those telescopes. But Jelte lives in Berltsum, where brightly lit greenhouses grow fruit and vegetables day in and day out. “I was never really able to see a good starry sky back then. Maybe it was also because I didn’t know how to use that telescope.”

It was actually no different for Mees, who grew up in Grou. Lighting of companies and homes ensured that it never really got dark.

The two pre-university students quickly found their topic for their profile paper. Light pollution. One of the many problems that threaten our society and nature on our planet, Mees and Jelte write in their English profile paper.

They wanted to find out what really is dark, and which types of lighting ensure that it never really gets dark in cities.

The real darkness

Armed with a spectroscope from the University of Groningen, the two boys set off to Dokkum, Lauwersoog and Leeuwarden. A light spectrum can be measured with a spectroscope. And anyone who wants to measure darkness and light pollution must use the evening and night. How does a high school student end up in Lauwersoog? “Bought by mothers,” Mees smiles.

Using the spectroscope, Mees and Jelte measured the darkness in the Lauwersmeer national park: there the darkness is partly protected by the UNESCO status. Dark Sky Park Lauwersmeer is a place with virtually no artificial light. Ideal for measuring the spectrum of real darkness and then comparing it with the spectra of darkness in the inner cities of Dokkum and Leeuwarden.

But first the Lauwersmeer. Jelte had never been there before and was amazed. “Very nice to be there, really quite an experience. I don’t think I’d ever seen anything like that through my telescope.” He saw planets he only knew from books and a glorious starry sky. “What a beautiful area.”


Later they wandered through Leeuwarden and Dokkum in the dark with a laptop and the spectroscope. Hardly anyone paid attention to the boys and their special mission. “We didn’t really go to very busy places.”

The two discovered how much fluorescent lighting, the orange-yellow sodium lighting along roads, as well as LED lighting, are responsible for light pollution. It doesn’t really get dark anywhere in Dokkum and Leeuwarden anymore. “They are real skylights.” If the pre-university students had had more time, they would have wanted to measure more precisely what exactly the composition of the Dokkumer and Leeuwarden light spectrum is. “But this was also very cool.”

The boys have become more aware of the influence that humans have on nature with their desire for enlightenment. Flora and fauna can be seriously upset if there is too much lighting, Mees and Jelte know.

Mees proudly tells how they heard from the University of Groningen that their results were very useful for the Kapteyn Institute for Astronomy. “They really benefited from it. That’s really nice.”

The two are considering electrical engineering as a follow-up study, and Jelte still has doubts about astronomy. They have no concrete ideas yet about what they will do next.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: beauty darkness Jelte Mees Leeuwarder Lyceum real starry sky time Lauwersmeer


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