The Night Sky: A Canvas For Our Imagination

“I like the night.

Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”

~ Stephenie Meyer, Author of the Twilight series

I like the night, too.  And I like this quote because it conjures up so many ideas about night for me.  At its surface, I am reminded of the wonder and joy I feel when I gaze at the night sky.  I glimpse constellations and marvel that I can see stars that shine from distances that are impossible for me to fathom. How long have these distant suns shone, I ponder, and how long will their light continue to be seen?

The latter question is one that has been gnawing at me lately.  Thinking of the ancient Greeks who, gazing the night sky found their heroes and gods, or of the ancient astronomers or seafarers who discovered new expanses, I become aware that they had the fortune to observe a multitude of stars with an unaided eye.  Their stars twinkled on a field black as pitch.  I long to see the night sky as our ancestors had seen it.  Instead, if I am lucky, I may see a few major stars and the planet Venus on a clear night.  Light pollution is the villain that has stolen my night, and that of most inhabited areas of our planet.  Today, precious few places exist on Earth where true total darkness can be experienced.  Satellite images reveal that sources of light from Earth’s most densely populated areas are effectively illuminating the skies and interfering with our ability to naturally observe space.

That saddens me, because I think there is still so much for us to learn and to teach our children about the night sky, and so much to appreciate by witnessing our undisturbed natural world and peering into the vastness beyond it.  While it is true that we can visit a planetarium or read books about the night sky, to observe the moon, stars and planets with our own eyes provides the richer experience.  The darkness of night is a canvas for stars to make wishes upon and a catalyst for questions, our imagination, and awe.  Looking up into the evening sky sparks something within each of us, and I never tire of it.  The night reminds me of my place in the universe, providing me perspective at the end of a busy day.

I wonder if Vincent ever worried about losing his starry nights?

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