There is an abandoned farmstead northwest of my town I drive to whenever there is a forecast for aurora activity, meteor showers, or those times I just want to look at the night sky. The area has the least amount of light pollution of any other nearby place I can park undisturbed for long periods of time.
The small city where I live is big enough to throw off an immense amount of reflected light. Most of it comes from industrial plants, big box retailers, and residential street lighting. Places that are not northwest of town are close enough to other towns so that the light pollution interferes with serious sky viewing.
Because of my early bedtime, most of my personal quality dark sky time takes place in the late fall, winter time, and early spring. The atmosphere is free of late evening sunshine and has lower relative humidity at those times. Also, I watch the weather forecasts for cloudless skies and the New Moon. Dark sky time is quality time to treasure. Even though I’m not an astronomer of any sort, I simply love to look at the sky when it’s dark and cloudless.
Dark sky is a relative condition. It refers to the absence of manmade light and its reflection. In an absolute sense, the sky cannot be totally dark because of the billions of stars and galaxies out there.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the dark sky is how the Milky Way and the rest of the sky dimly illuminate the ground once your eyes become adjusted to darkness. The effect enables us to fully realize how integral our little planet is within the Universe.
Regardless of the time of year, the night sky that is partly cloudy or completely clear is always awe-inspiring. It’s even better if you have access to a good telescope. One of my friends has a reflector telescope that is fitted to a tripod mount with a clockwork mechanism. Whenever possible, we like to focus on Saturn or Jupiter, simply because they are such obviously amazing planets. On especially clear nights, we can actually see a few of the planets’ moons. The sights are beautiful and seem almost magical.
Aside from star and planet gazing, dark skies just make me feel physically better. These feelings are validated by scientific studies about the effect of artificial lighting at night on human health. The findings are not good. Artificial lighting is also a drain on the electrical grid and the environment, along with our right to enjoy the heritage of dark night skies.
There is a happy compromise between dark skies and the outdoor lighting that promotes safety and discourages crime. Landscape architects and city planners can choose to include new lighting technology when installing or replacing outdoor lights. The designs of the fixtures plus the use of LED elements provide efficient lighting at lower overall costs. That means fewer urban problems and more dark sky.
Take some time this week to look up at the night sky, even if you live in a city. The view of a cloudless dark sky will take you out of this world.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see; and wonder about what makes the Universe exist. Be curious.”