, , , , , ,


The Mobius Arch Loop Trailhead, by ©Clarisse Meyer via Unsplash

Ah, January – that time of year when the nights are longer, and if you live in a northern clime, you might be able to wander out to a hilltop on a clear, cold night, and be mesmerized by the stars above.  I remember amazing nights on a fishing boat in the Philippines during my Peace Corps days, where it seemed I could reach up and take a handful of the cosmos, or hiking the Three Sisters Wilderness area under a moonless sky so bright with stars, we didn’t need flashlights. And nothing stirs the creative juices for a sci-fi story I’m writing like gazing at the heavens.

I miss the stars.

Last time I caught the majesty of the Milky Way with the naked eye, was a few years ago while visiting my park ranger daughter at Pipe Springs National Monument in Utah.  I now use a smart-phone app called Sky Guide, a handheld planetarium of sorts, to view the constellations in real time. As if standing on a remote hill a thousand years ago, the app displays what we should see if the sky wasn’t hazy with light scatter.

Most of my adult working life was in or near major metropolises.  It’s a little hard to stargaze with today’s countless malls, homes, and streetlamps. Though I’m fortunate to live in a small, eastern Pennsylvania town where I can stroll the streets and cul-de-sacs at night, there’s still too much light pollution to see constellations with any clarity.

How bad is it? Take a look at a before and after shot during a Northeast power outage in 2003.


Source: Darksky.org – Photo by ©Todd Carlson

It has me wondering why we need all that illumination.  Apparently, I’m not alone.

Since the late 1980s, IDA, International Dark-Sky Association, has been collecting information about the hazards of light pollution, and suggesting ways to counter it. As a former biologist, I’ve known for some time that excess light when it’s supposed to be dark, disrupts natural circadian rhythms. Our photoperiodism evolved with darkness a part of the daily cycle. In the US and Europe, nighttime light pollution affects 80% of the geography. Bet you didn’t know streetlights account for most of that light scatter.


Source: National Parks Service – Night Sky Growth

According to the IDA, “We are losing the dark of night, at the speed of light.”  No wonder I can’t see the stars.

I’d love to frequent a place where I can see the Milky Way without the need of a smart-phone app. Thankfully, my daughters live near Las Vegas, a top contender for light pollution capital of the world, but not that far from places that offer great starry views, like Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon, and the many National Parks within a day’s ride.

On the Top Ten Places in the World to Stargaze, imagine my surprise to see the first one listed right here in Pennsylvania, Cherry Springs State Park, but it’s three-plus hours away, not something I can head out the back door on a whim after dinner.

We’re starting to see a trend with small towns working to preserve a diminishing resource – darkness, by managing light. Streetlights can be modified to point light down, where it’s needed, not upward, where it pollutes. The IDA now has a certification process for Dark Sky Communities around the world.


Pondering the Heavens, by ©Ömür Kahveci via @500px

For now, I’ll have to endure that pesky ole city light scatter hogging the spotlight (pun intended), take a drive, find a nice hill, and search for some darkness where I can see the true light above my head.

Hopefully, I won’t need a flashlight to find it.


PS: I like pinning photographs of the stars above on my Pinterest Page, Searching for Light, if you’re interested in following.

And if you don’t have time to find a place of dark sky, I offer this excellent time lapse compilation of the Milky Way, by Peaceful Cuisine.