THE FRIENDLY DARK SOUTHERN SKIES
In the Northern Hemisphere we can see some stunning celestial objects; we can witness meteor showers and fantastic bolides and we can see rings around the sun and moon, which are caused by light reflecting from cirrus clouds (made of ice crystals). We can see planets, stars, and arms of our home galaxy; depending on our lighting and pollution conditions we can see dim stars, star colors, the Milky Way and the nearest galaxy to our own, Andromeda.
As children if we are fortunate we have telescopes and excellent binoculars with which to see the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, the features on our Moon, and with proper filter protection, solar prominences and sunspots. We can pick out some of the better known constellations and asterisms, such as Orion and the Summer Triangle.
However, many of the sights people can witness in the celestial realm are seen only in the Southern Hemisphere. Certain supernovae for instance have been seen only from that part of the Earth, and some of the best dark skies in the world are in that hemisphere.
Wouldn’t it be great if the nations of the Southern Hemisphere engaged in eco-friendly peacetime deals and stopped their wars based on religion and grabbing power, in tearing down the forests and destroying the land? There is so much to marvel at and ponder if only the people of Indonesia, India, Africa and South America would lay down their weapons and quell their anger and just take time to gaze into the skies on clear nights.
What would they see? They certainly would see sights on a grand scale, such as we can see here if we are lucky.
Americans are learning the benefits of having regions devoted to dark-sky observation, freed from development and away from the lights of big cities and industry. We know that reducing the amount of artificial light that enters our windows at night is beneficial for our health, but we still need street lights that are designed and efficient enough to direct light down instead of up and out. Better lighting would reduce greatly the amount of that awful “light pollution” that clouds the skies even dozens of miles away from cities.
Thus in areas with fewer cities and developments, such as are seen in some parts of the Southern Hemisphere, just think of the benefits the peoples could draw in by catering to people who want to see wonderful dark-sky conditions. Eco-tourism is growing in popularity, and there would be nothing better for some overworked city dweller to come to a quiet, dark, calm place, and get out there under the sparkling show of a velvety black panorama.
There would be globular clusters, galaxies, planets, stars, meteor showers, the spiral arms of our Milky Way; there would be constellations and comets to grace the eyes and the brains of astute viewers. What a place to hold a Messier Marathon an area such as India, Micronesia, Australia, Indonesia, and Easter Island would be!
What else would the peoples of the Southern Hemisphere see? Branch out for a moment from talk of the skies and the planets and think about what they would see in others and in themselves. They would see other human beings just as they are, they would see families and young children yearning for a chance to have peace and quiet and grow up in a place free from constant noise and lights for security and weapons discharging and waste ruining the streets and the atmosphere. They would see people yearning for freedom to enjoy nights in the countryside with their relatives; they would see people wanting time on their front porches to watch the meteors or watch the progression of the planets as their ancestors did centuries ago.
They would see more than a resource for bringing in serious bucks and for preserving their natural environments; they would see each other.
Galaxies in our own right are we humans; with so many parts but within each individual, within each person there are opportunities, there are chances and there is potential. We are stardust each one of us; we are made of the universal elements born in supernovae. Our common beginning is up there and around us, in the cosmos, in the evolving universe, and in the stars our destiny is happening every second.
We can take notice of each other and with clear heads we can look up and help others do the same. Take the time, turn off the lights, go outside, be quiet, relax and breathe, and just look up.
Divi Logan, Chicago, 2013.
- Revealing the Cosmic Microwave Background with Planck (physicsforme.wordpress.com)
- Crossing the Galactic Plane – and the photon belt (uama.wordpress.com)
- Video: Timelapse of night sky over southern oceans (earthsky.org)
- Another chance to catch the moon and Comet PANSTARRS on March 13 (earthsky.org)
- Rare ‘Zodiacal Light’ will be visible in night sky soon (mnn.com)
- Comets PANSTARRS and Lemmon sweep through the southern skies (earthsky.org)