Sometimes, I lament living in the inner city. And when I say sometimes, I mean frequently. I stumbled upon this graphic recently on the internet, illustrating the Bortle scale. Originally published in Sky & Telescope magazine, the Bortle scale is a tool for amateur astronomers to gauge how good an observing site is. The scale goes from 1 at darkest, to 9 at brightest. I think it makes my point quite well…

The sky outside my window is a very definite 9. I certainly can’t see anything dimmer than 4th magnitude. Actually, I can rarely even see anything that dim. There are no recognisable constellations from my window, except possibly for Orion. I dread the day when I’m at an outreach event and hear a kid ask me what a constellation is. Or even what a star is. I fear that day may someday come.

On the other hand, I’m one of the people lucky enough to have seen a truly dark sky. A 1 on the Bortle scale. The kind of place where on a clear night, you can find roads and paths by starlight. Where if the sky is overcast, you literally cannot see your hand when you’re holding it just inches from your face. Pitch blackness.

True darkness is a rare and refreshing commodity. Particularly living in the midst of one of the most light polluted places on Earth. I should really join the International Dark Skies Association. People shouldn’t cut themselves off from the stars. To our ancestors, the night sky was always there. A dark starlit sky was nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps if people were more humbled by the vista of stars across the night sky, they might take themselves a little less seriously. It’s not so easy to get so caught up in your own little world when you realise just how small your world truly is. Perhaps humility like that would be a good thing for everyone concerned…

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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