In the photo to the left I’ve drawn a white box around New Zealand. Although our cities contribute a fair bit of light to the night sky, it’s not that easy to find us on this NASA Earth Observatory map of city lights.
Meanwhile North America and Europe shine out, along with some other spots. I guess people who live in those places don’t often get to enjoy the splendour and mystery of a sky full of stars.
[Photo via : Bright Lights, Big City : Feature Articles:
Global city lights. The Eastern U.S., Europe, and Japan are brightly lit by their cities, while the interiors of Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America remain (for now) dark and lightly populated. ]
One of the things I like about Christmas time is that a large chunk of Wellington’s population clears out. The Government and its officials go on holiday, the university students depart for points unknown, and many of the general population just prefer to go elsewhere. And when they go away they tend to leave their lights switched off.
In particular, many of our direct neighbours go away, so their lights are off. Sometimes we’re even lucky enough that the street light goes out too, then it’s truly, beautifully dark around us.
It’s a great time to go out at night and look at the stars.
From our house, at any time of year, provided the weather’s favourable, I can see the Milky Way. If I’m not too tired or busy (and I often am) I like to take my giant binoculars or my telescope out on the deck and look at the sky.
We’re far enough South that the Southern Cross is always above the horizon, though hills and trees reduce my view to North, East and West.
2009 is the International Year of Astronomy:
… a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture, highlighted by the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The aim of the Year is to stimulate worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science under the central theme “The Universe, Yours to Discover”. IYA2009 events and activities will promote a greater appreciation of the inspirational aspects of astronomy that embody an invaluable shared resource for all nations.
At the same time, many people are pushing for changes to how our cities are lit, to reduce light pollution:
“Dark Skies Awareness” … goal is to raise the level of public knowledge about adverse impacts of excess artificial lighting on local environments and help more people appreciate the ongoing loss of a dark night sky for much of the world’s population.
… not only does poor quality lighting and design affect our view of the heavens, but it can also destroy our surrounding environment, waste energy, threaten our safety, and even harm our health.
[Via : Dark Skies Awareness.]
Next time you’re outside in the dark take a moment to look up at the sky. What do you see? Any bright stars? Not sure what those stars are? Visit Your Sky to find out.
Observing tip: it takes your eyes several minutes to adjust to the dark. Avoid lights for a few minutes before trying to really look at the stars.