I get a great deal of satisfaction from just looking up at the night sky. Been doing it since I was a kid. Literally. During summer months when school was out and the nights were warm a neighborhood friend and I would often recline in lawn chairs in the backyard, each of us with binoculars, spending hours looking into the heavens and talking about life, such as it was for thirteen year-old boys in Indiana.
Funny how that memory is burned into my brain yet I can’t remember a single mosquito bite, and you know there had to have been plenty of those!
We especially watched for shooting stars and saw plenty of them, even if a few did turn out to be fireflies doing their thing. Sometimes we would track a pinpoint of light from one horizon to the other, guessing these to be planes or maybe even satellites. We didn’t know and it didn’t really matter. We knew even less about the constellations that appeared overhead, but night after night the sky always seemed a familiar appearance.
When I got a little older I still enjoyed looking up.
A telescope helped a little, but I was never bitten hard by the astronomy bug. I think what amazed me most was when I understood that this view was basically unchanged for endless millennia. The sky view I enjoyed was identical to that viewed by America’s Founding Father’s, Napoleon, Caesar, and countless generations before them. My Father, Grandfather, and so much further up the family tree all gazed upon the exact same view. Having that common touchpoint really seemed special to me.
Now I read that scientists are warning Stars could be invisible within 20 years as light pollution brightens night skies.
Twenty years will take me to the end of my time here, but I’m incredibly saddened to think my grandchildren might not have the same opportunity to stare into forever and dream dreams the way I did.
In 2016, astronomers reported that the Milky Way was no longer visible to a third of humanity and light pollution has worsened considerably since then. At its current rate most of the major constellations will be indecipherable in 20 years, it is estimated. The loss, culturally and scientifically, will be intense.
“The night sky is part of our environment and it would be a major deprivation if the next generation never got to see it, just as it would be if they never saw a bird’s nest,” said Martin Rees, the astronomer royal. “You don’t need to be an astronomer to care about this. I am not an ornithologist but if there were no songbirds in my garden, I’d feel impoverished.”
Losing this common link to our ancestors - and our humanity - is a tragedy like few others if you ask me. I don’t want to live in a world where the only view of the heavens is from an orbiting telescope controlled by a government agency.
I might not have to, though I’m sad to think of all those who will come after me who may never be able to simply look up and see Orion the Hunter in all his celestial glory with their very own naked eyes.