If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Reblogged (below, following my introduction) from an article published in Watts Up With That for today, Monday, June 13, 2016
Growing up in rural mid-Suffolk county in the late 1960s, the night sky and the Milky Way were mainstays for me and largely contributed to my life-long love affair with the stars and the natural universe. They were, in large part, the inspiration that fueled what would begin as a hobby, building an observatory in my backyard at age 13 to house my modest telescope, where I would read every book I could find on astronomy, to a profession today, teaching young minds about the universe, attempting to instill in them the inspiration that I experienced as a young boy.
I thought the sky as I had witnessed it in mid-central Long Island was as good as it gets, unaware of the slow and inexorable growth of light pollution that was ever so slowly stealing away the sky’s natural beauty; the milky way, its sublime and ethereal beauty being gradually diminished, replaced with the garish and ugly lights of man; this spectacle of nature, revealing herself in the largest and grandest possible extent, our galaxy, our home in the cosmos, was slowly disappearing from view.
During a 1972 camping trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my father, I came to learn what I once had 10 years earlier at my childhood home and lost, when I emerged from our tent, wondering what the source of the light was outside. My breath was taken away at the reflection of the Milky Way in Lake Winnipesauke, that the Milky Way was the source of the light and was casting a shadow and that you could navigate what was otherwise a pitch-dark campground by it without a flashlight!
A piece in the current issue of the Christian Science Monitor discusses what many of us in the Astronomical community have known for over 4 decades, that the night sky is being slowly taken away from us, that over 33% of humanity today cannot enjoy the splendor of the night sky, the diamonds set in a velvety black background, the majesty of the Milky Way, the greatest lightshow ever imagined is invisible to much of humanity.
I have often written of the need for increased education in the STEM fields, how that would be a good place to start, to stem the growth of pseudoscience, religious extremism and the clear onset of a new intellectual dark age. The 2009 International Year of Astronomy was such an attempt but that effort has waned considerably, largely forgotten after almost seven years, although the website(s) and some of the projects continue to this day.
The simple act of looking up at the sky after sunset, watching the stars slowly come out, the Milky Way slowly becoming visible during twilight is all that’s necessary to inspire the current generation of young minds and is, I would argue, the antidote and cure to such horrific acts of violence as what happened in Orlando, Florida over the weekend. This was an act of hate, perhaps, but it was also motivated by fundamentalist religious extremism. Nature abhors a vacuum and will quickly find a substitute; a society bereft of any meaningful inspiration will quickly devolve, spiraling to ever darker and darker depths.
It’s no wonder that there is no one today to fill the shoes of such greats as Carl Sagan, one individual who inspired my generation; no one can see the night sky anymore. The sources of inspiration are gone, replaced by endless shopping mall after shopping mall, movie theaters, car dealerships; the list is almost endless.
Humanity is being disenfranchised of her birthright. Shield the lights, turn them off (reducing our collective carbon footprint in the process) and let us be inspired once again.
It’s really quite easy to affect change here. Support the efforts of such groups as The International Dark Sky Association whose mission is to educate, inform and assist. Get involved in your local communities and civic associations; become informed and advocate for sensible dark sky ordinances at the local level. One person can make a difference; we owe it to ourselves, our progeny and all future generations who may never know what it was like to simply look up in awe and wonder at the night sky.
In closing, I remember the words of the great Carl Sagan in The Pale Blue Dot, reminding us that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. Let us give the night sky back to humanity in all its glory, lest it be lost from this generation and the next; how can they share in the experience that Carl spoke of so passionately if they can’t see the sky? I am also reminded of the words from Sarah Williams’ “The Old Astronomer to His Pupil“:
“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.“
Imagination is more important than knowledge
An index of all articles in this blog can be found here.
From the UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER and the “I blame Edison” department.
Light pollution now blots out the Milky Way for eight in 10 Americans. Bright areas in this map show where the sky glow from artificial lighting blots out the stars and constellations. An international team of researchers has released the new World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness, in a paper published in Science Advances today.
Falchi et al, Science Advances; Jakob Grothe/National Park Service, Matthew Price/CIRES/CU-Boulder.
The Milky Way, the brilliant river of stars that has dominated the night sky and human imaginations since time immemorial, is but a faded memory to one third of humanity and 80 percent of Americans, according to a new global atlas of light pollution produced by Italian and American scientists.
Light pollution is one of the most pervasive forms of environmental alteration. In most developed countries, the ubiquitous presence of artificial…
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