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Emily LakdawallaJuly 27, 2007

Stars Above, Earth Below: Appreciating Dark Skies

Tyler Nordgren just sent me a new "Stars Above, Earth Below" journal entry, as he prepares to depart for Rocky Mountain National Park. (Man, am I jealous of him for getting to do this project!) Here's a snippet from his update:

It occurred to me that as astronomers and planetary scientists my colleagues and I should be very concerned about [the loss of dark skies]. We have the privilege of doing what we love and exploring other worlds because the governments of this planet support us financially (both in paychecks and payloads). If the day comes when the last star disappears into the nighttime glow, and the last person stops looking up because they have forgotten there is a universe out there beyond the atmosphere, how long will the public continue to support our exploration or feel that it has any personal relevance to their lives?
And here is a very striking illustration of what he is talking about. At the top is the sky over Joshua Tree, near my own very light-polluted hometown; at the bottom, Natural Bridges, where the brightest feature visible in the sky on a Moonless night is the center of the galaxy!
The light-polluted sky over Joshua Tree National Park

Dan Duriscoe, NPS

The light-polluted sky over Joshua Tree National Park
An all-sky image of the sky over Joshua Tree National Park. Brightnesses per square arcsecond increase from blue to white. Notice the faint light-blue structure of the Milky Way overhead almost lost in the glare of southern California lights.
Also, while I'm pointing to other places, check out the 13th carnival of space!

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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