Staring up at the night sky, unfettered by artificial light, in all its majesty, is a transcendent experience. But sadly, it’s an experience of which many citizens of the developed world are deprived.
“Eight of ten kids born in the U.S. will never live where they can see the Milky Way,” author Paul Bogard recently lamented to The Atlantic.
“We’ve taken what was once one of the most common human experiences, which is walking out your door and coming face-to-face with the universe, and we’ve made it one of the most rare human experiences.”
The culprit, of course, is light. Like cunning thieves in the night, street lamps and other light sources beguile us with a warm, tender glow, permitting us to comfortably navigate our darkened surroundings. But at the same time, they steal away our view of the heavens. Through illumination of the close, we are blinded to the beyond.
“When you get to where there’s no light around except what Nature’s giving you, the sky is amazing because there’s stars everywhere. There’s color in the stars. There’s so much range of brightness… Familiar constellations can become lost,” says Scott Kardel, an astronomer and director of the International Dark-Sky Association.
Our ancestors were not blindfolded as we are today.
“Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment we watched the stars,” Carl Sagan wrote. “There were practical calendar reasons of course but there was more to it than that. Even today the most jaded city dweller can be unexpectedly moved upon encountering a clear night sky studded with thousands of twinkling stars. When it happens to me after all these years it still takes my breath away.”
Throughout all of history, the stars have served as humanity’s quintessential source of curiosity.
What happens when we are shielded from celestial inspiration, and from truly seeing our place in the Cosmos? Do we look down and wonder less? Do we lose our sense of scale? Does our ingrained drive to explore dwindle?
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