Night Vision—Dark Skies and Astro-Tourism

Posted February 26, 2019 - by Nick Jarvis

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Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon? Would you travel a great distance to see it? For plenty of people, the answer is clearly "yes." Each year, about five million tourists come to explore the great natural wonder and to get a view that is breathtaking, inspirational, scientifically-informative, and not available in their day-to-day life. In my humble opinion, the pristine, clear night sky is every bit as breathtaking, inspirational, and informative as a view over the Grand Canyon.​

Our views of the night sky are highly variable, depending on one's location and other circumstances. In the places where most of us live and work - namely, cities and towns - our views of the sky have been degraded by many things, mostly our artificial lighting. The "light pollution" in and around our settlements has left most of us unable to see the full glory of the stars, seeing instead only the bright planets and brightest constellations.

Night Sky Comparison Between Town and City
Caption: A comparison of the view of the night sky from a small rural town (top) and a metropolitan area (bottom). Light pollution dramatically reduces the visibility of stars. (Image credit: Jeremy Stanley)

In this week's Night Vision, we'll highlight the sights that are most-improved by reducing/eliminating light pollution. We'll also learn how to identify the best dark sky sites, how to quantify and measure the degree of local light pollution, and how to access astronomically-specialized weather reports to get the best possible view of the stars.

​When you're out in the country, in the absence of light pollution/clouds/air pollution/etc., the night sky is a commanding sight. Thousands and thousands of fainter stars become visible, as well as many star clusters, galaxies, and nebulae. But for my money the single greatest feature of a pristine sky is the Milky Way. When you know what it is, the hazy band of the Milky Way gives a real sense of depth to the rest of the stars and transforms the sky from a murky ceiling into an opening to a vast open space; it's actually a quite intense thrill! 

Have you ever seen the Milky Way? Would you travel a great distance to see it?

Join Nick Jarvis on Thursday, February 28th, for this week's Night Vision. Tickets are just $2.00 per person for the public, and free for members of Clark Planetarium. Get your tickets now.