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In the dark of the night
Author: TriSec    Date: 11/29/2008 13:55:38

How many of us assembled here are happy city dwellers?

Night in the city is an interesting thing...music, dancing, drinking, movies, nightlife in general. Of course there is always a dark side, and the undercurrent of society does most of its work under the cover of darkness, too.

But when was the last time you looked up?

I'm an aviation geek; I always look up, even in the night, whenever I hear an aero engine passing by. (Except September 11...see other blogs about that.) But do you ever stop and look at those feeble little pricks of light in the sky that our ancestors used to call "stars"?

I posted a story on the message board the other day about Bar Harbor, Maine enacting an ordinance to protect the night sky. Mount Desert Island is far enough away from the major population centers of the East Coast that you can still see the stars from there.

Did you ever wonder why our galaxy is named the "Milky Way"? On a dark summer's night (from the Northern Hemisphere), you can see why....looking edge-on toward's the galaxy's center from the Orion Arm, the bulk of our galaxy makes an impenetrable glowing band slicing across the night sky. It's quite a sight to behold, if you can ever see it.

City dwellers have to deal with light pollution...huge amounts of light that could otherwise be aimed at the ground bleed off into space, and illuminate the atmosphere and wash out any hope of seeing any of nature's wonders from the ground. Take a look around you the next night you're out....any fixture that projects light up, or that you can see from the side, is wasting energy and polluting the night sky.

I suppose it's the price we pay for our modern society. You and I can look at street maps and highways and have a pretty good idea of where we are. Once on a day hike that's become part of my Cub Scout Pack's lore, one of our adults (who is an amateur Ornithologist) was picking birds out of nowhere, identifying them by a flick of wing or briefest of birdcall. That morning, planes departing from Logan Airport were flying over our birding site, and I was identifying the "aluminum birds" just as easilly as he was.

My point is...pull out an unmarked star chart and see how much you recognize. We've heard of them....The Big Dipper, Orion the Hunter, the constellations of the Zodiac....but do you even know what they look like anymore?

The night sky has many joys that we and our children just don't know anymore. If you can, get out into the woods away from the city sometime and just look. The night sky is full of wonders, all free for the looking, if we can only find a way away from the trappings of the city.

Monday evening, if you have clear skies, go outside and look west. You'll be able to see something cool, even from the city.

And if you can't, check out Astronomy Picture of the Day...chock-full of NASA photos, it's one of the more interesting places on the ol' internets.

I'll leave you today with two images....one of some night-sky objects I hope to see one day, but will require a trip south of the equator:


And this computer-generated image of North America at night:


The International Dark Sky Association has plenty more information....and most states have active chapters.

40 comments (Latest Comment: 11/30/2008 07:17:01 by livingonli)
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