The Importance of Darkness

night sky
Watcher of the Skies | Image by Pete Linforth

My friend Patricia, who is currently living in the American southwest, sent me an article about programs there to get out to places with dark night skies and see the stars. This is a new kind of travel that is known as astrotourism. There are travel companies and also national and state parks doing these programs.

This is not a time for travel, but I continue to do my stargazing here in Paradelle which definitely is not a dark-sky location. I was looking up at Orion the Hunter at the beginning of this year, but now I note that it has moved very low in the western part of the sky when the sun goes down.

Soon, Orion will disappear into the sun’s glare because, like all the stars, it shifts westward as we pass through the seasons.

In the daytime, I observe the Sun as it moves in the morning from one of my family room windows to another marking winter and summer for me.

Stars have to be in the far northern or southern sky (circumpolar) to avoid movement.  And all the stars and their constellations move westward in the course of a single night. Not that they are actually “moving” but because the Earth is spinning.

Orion is no exception. That motion, though, is due to Earth’s spin. Add to that spin our orbit around the Sun and things are constantly moving out there – from our point of view.

Indigenous peoples have always had a deeper connection to nature, the seasons, and the changes in the Moon, stars, and night sky. I was not surprised to read that Shash Diné, an off-the-grid bed-and-breakfast in the northeast tip of the Navajo Nation in Arizona has become an astrotourism place for night sky observations.

In The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, Paul Bogard writes about the loss of the dark night sky which has influenced our science and art.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is an organization that monitors light pollution and certifies “dark-sky places.”  In the United States, the densest concentration of these locations is found at the Four Corners where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet.

Light pollution makes it difficult to see things in the night sky, but it has other impacts on us. It disrupts wildlife, impacts human health, wastes money and energy, and even contributes to climate change. And it is increasing at twice the rate of population growth. Now, 83% of the global population lives under a light-polluted sky.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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