Thursday, October 3, 2013

What we need is a blackout

Last week I visited my daughter in Kentucky where she is beginning her first year of college.  My wife and I stayed nearby with a cousin who lives in a rural area of the state not far from her school.  Arriving at my cousin’s home at 11:00 pm after visiting the college campus, I was stunned by the sky view that greeted me.  It was a cool, dry fall evening with no clouds and the majesty of the stars, including a clearly visible Milky Way, all but shouted to me from above.  I stood on the driveway looked skyward for as long as I could before I had to come inside, lest I be rude to my host.

I live in an urban area and the last time I could see the Milky Way from my house was after the tornado swarm in 2011 left the entire county without power.  It was a deadly event, and a disaster for the hundreds who lost their homes, but for the rest of us it afforded an opportunity to gaze skyward and see the stars.  For some, this was the first time in their lives to see so many stars.

Now, it’s not hard to get sky views like this – but it requires planning.  Many people just need to drive an hour or so from their homes to reach a rural area without as much light pollution and voila, the beauty of the universe awaits.  We love to go camping and star gazing is an integral part of each trip.

When people see the stars, they cannot help but ask the fundamental questions that we otherwise tend to ignore in our ‘busyness.’  Questions like:

·         What’s out there?
·         Is there anyone out there looking back at us?
·         Why am I here?

Modern life with its many distractions doesn't give the average person much time, or much of a prompt (like the stars ‘shouting’ at me) to think about these topics.  With our televisions, computer screens, lighted homes and streetlights, we are mostly isolated from being confronted with questions about our place in the universe.

I suspect that if there were a nationwide blackout, one where no one was injured and no lives or property were at risk (not likely, I know), but if there were such an event, then people would see the stars and begin to ask these big questions. 

I bet public support for space exploration would dramatically increase.  

Les Johnson
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1 comment:

  1. A bit of a drastic solution. I prefer the idea that exterior illumination be much more efficient and down facing to reduce the night glow. What we also need is more awareness of what we are seeing, even when the sky is partially cloudy. An app that is like the Sloan maps and sensitive to its orientation would also be a big help here.