Light Pollution

Watching this time lapse video by Mike Flores – 4 years ago in Baja California – illustrates ancient civilization’s keen understanding of the cosmos. Ponder a world unfettered by light pollution – imagine this on the “big screen” every night – galactic awareness would become second nature.

This graphic sums up modern reality – a majority of Earth’s citizens live within the spectrum of the first two night skies. All but a handful of the brightest objects hopelessly lost to light pollution. I’ve used the 1994 Los Angelos Northridge earthquake example on many occasions – when the city lost power, frantic citizens called 911 and the Griffith Observatory, terrified by the appearance of a “strange, giant, silvery cloud” – it never occurred to say hello to the Milky Way.

Image showing the differences in the night sky as examples of the Bortle Sky Index

I’ve often asked myself if modern indifference towards the natural world stems from fading reminders of our place in the cosmos. Ancient people built mythology around celestial observations – cosmic shifts and alignments dictated planting, harvest. Elaborately woven lore binding earth and sky. The world made sense because nothing was taken for granted.

We’ve lost the one perspective able to put us in our place – the ability to look up and see we’re part of a very big universe. It may not be possible to find a corner dark enough to see the universe as ancient people did – watching Mike Flores video is a great place to start.

Arc to Arcturus

Neglecting “baby steps” to the cosmos weighs heavily on my mind. Some weeks ago I vowed an attempt to impart my cosmic awe and wonder through simple descriptions of the sky above. Nothing fancy, no pretentious gobbley gook –  observations intended to build confidence by way of baby steps. Occurring to me the big picture was daunting, the logical approach being to build interest one little step at a time.

Not foolish enough to think wonder grows from baby steps – my secret hope rests with enthusiasm being contagious. Even a mild case of inexplicable star gazing or random reference to sky points by a single reader of my baby steps project would make the world a better place.

Arcturus is a massive star in the constellation Bootes – a bit of a rogue, Arcturus doesn’t follow along with other stars in the Milky Way. Instead it travels perpendicularly at 150 kilometers a second, a path that will completely remove it from earthly skies a few million years from now. Find the last star on Big Dipper’s handle – draw a line with your eye until you reach a large orange star. Say hello to Arcturus.

Arcturus isn’t particularly large or predominant – that isn’t what matters. All that counts is you try to find it – once you find and file Arcturus in your mind you’ll be wiser and stronger than before.


Hail Aquarids


For the next few days Earth’s orbit passes through debris from Halley’s comet – an annual event known as the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.

Animation Credit: NASA MSFC

Named for constellation Aquarius and the star Eta – the focal point Aquarids radiate from. It doesn’t matter where in the world you live, look towards the eastern horizon a few hours before dawn on May 5 and 6th. Dependable,  with a respectable average of 60 meteors an hour, Aquarids are one of the easiest showers to view.

The reason pre-dawn star gazing delivers results is that the radiant (Aquarius) is highest in the sky an hour or two before twilight. The radiant isn’t as high in the northern hemisphere as southern hemisphere skies. Southern hemisphere sky gazers get more sky streakers an hour, northern hemisphere enthusiasts get “earthgrazers” – extremely flashy slow moving show offs moving horizontally across the upper atmosphere as the radiant rises – look for them around 2 – 2:30 am.

Meteors are nothing more than tiny particles, no larger than grains of sand, entering our atmosphere from 7 – 45 miles per second depending on their entry in relation to our orbit.  Meteor showers simply cosmic dust trails left by passing comets – nothing substantial enough to survive our atmosphere – absolutely no chance of impact.

A link to Earthsky’s 2014 meteor guide….

Another Perspective


“Curious” is the only way to describe polarized opinions of the universe. Try as I might, ability to convey my  belief the universe can be welcomed without discussion of God, often elude, baffle and exasperate. I feel sorry for those choosing to grind away at life, blinders firmly in place as silly rhetoric robs them of wonder. Constant encounters with people blithering over “God’s” magnificence, reciting the “party line” as their field of vision narrows. I can’t put this any way other than calm assurance – I don’t give a rat’s ass what you believe, look at the damn sky! Snap out of it, understand it doesn’t make a lick of difference who or what made it – is it too much to ask you pay attention?

Indifference void of religious cataracts make even less sense. Patience becomes a rare commodity as eyes glaze over, insincere “how interesting” or lame alien jokes illustrate your lack of imagination. Look at the damn sky!

Having a favorite star, knowing exact distances between earth and the moon or sun, checking space weather reports, watching aurora cams, geomagnetic storm activity, solar winds or potentially hazardous asteroids doesn’t make me paranoid, flakey or crazy. Knowing star formations, planetary alignments and lunar cycles isn’t guaranteed membership in the “crystal worshippers club”. Interest in Keppler, Hubble, Cassini, or Voyager space probes, phone apps Google Sky and Solar Dynamics Observatory with “real time” images at my fingertips hardly justify your snickers.

Human nature dictates longing for explanation – answers put our minds at ease. For those so inclined, God becomes a fall back position, “his” wonder negating any need for further reflection. To be honest, those void of conviction, unwilling to tear themselves away from all too important little lives are the ones who confound; stay the course religious constraints considerably more understandable than indifferent, self absorbed tweeters.

This evening a fat old light bulb flickered – long enough to glean a moment of comprehension, bright enough to illuminate reflection. It dawned on me; wonder wasn’t something to shove down throats, expecting others to share my views – ridiculous as religious fundamentalists asking me to climb on board. Expectations for socially wired twenty somethings to see the world as I do or comprehend life without all consuming devices, nothing more than a sign middle age is laughing.

Undaunted by sobering light bulbs, human nature prevailed – my approach is all wrong – baby steps might be the answer. To be honest it doesn’t matter, won’t alter my course or change my ways if others can’t name the stars in constellation Orion. This isn’t about swaying the masses, isn’t directed at the majority of my open minded followers or intended as anything other than the “baby step” angle stuck in my head.

Over the next few days I’m going to attempt a politely restrained road trip away from planet earth. Tonight’s video, barely outside the upper atmosphere, captures lightning and auroras from the orbiting space station. If nothing else, it cements the concept of our”magnetosphere” –  the starting point of space weather repercussions – a baby step into the cosmos.