Starry starry night

Living in the middle of a city is something which I frequently lament. As much as I do like city life, and would like to live in a much larger city one day soon, you can’t help but feel somewhat cut off.

The disconnect with nature and planet Earth is obvious, but the disconnect which I like even less is that with the sky – and the sad thing is that it’s something few people even miss, because they’ve never truly seen it with their own eyes.

Just how would it be if all those lights could just be switched off. What exactly would we behold…?


This is precisely the question which artist Thierry Cohen seeks to answer in his breathtaking set of images, Villes Éteintes. These photographs attempt to show us exactly what we’re missing. What humans have seen in the skies for thousands of years, before we started shining our own lights more brightly.

Cohen’s work consists of beautiful composite images. For the sky, he travels to some of the remotest sites in the world, with the darkest skies. Those are then combined seamlessly with photographs of cities – taken in broad daylight and then darkened. By taking night sky photographs at the same lattitude as those cities, these images give a true representation of the sky at night which always goes unseen.

Hong Kong

Villes Éteintes is often translated around the internet as “Darkened Cities”, but perhaps a better translation would be Extinguished Cities. These images challenge our imagined self-importance. They remind us that our accomplishments are small compared to the resplendent majesty of the sky above us – a sky which was there long before we were, and shall still be there long after we’re gone.

This becomes even more so when we realise, as more and more of us now do, that this sky is no painting. It is not a two-dimensional static image. That sight – that breathtaking sight – is a view into the rest of the galaxy. It’s an almost unimaginably distant background. Imagine if we were to spend every night able to gaze into the immensity of the cosmos in which we live. Perhaps being humbled that way would do us all a lot of good.

These images are © Thierry Cohen, reproduced here with kind permission. If you like these, you should go to his gallery and view the full set. If you can afford it, consider buying a print from him – believe me, if I had any spare cash at all, I would do so without thinking twice!

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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2 Responses to Starry starry night

  1. Prof. Bleen says:

    That’s pretty cool, but the skies from remote sites are likely to be clearer also from the lack of air pollution, so I’d say he’s cheating a little bit. Alas, in the American Midwest, overcast skies are a bigger hindrance to stargazing than even the light pollution, and during the summer it’s so hazy that I pretty much can’t see anything below magnitude 4.

    • invaderxan says:

      True, true. Fair points all. Bring from a particularly rainy little place myself, I know all too well how problematic the weather can be. But even some nights of dark skies would certainly be more inspiring than none…

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