On Dark Clear Nights, You Can See Forever

NGC1275 of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster

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Click here for the supernova in NGC1268 (detail)
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By the end of the nineteenth century, arc lights had been used in lighthouses for several years. They produced a brilliant light by arranging the tips of two carbon rods very close together. When sufficient electricity, from dynamos of the day, was sent to each, the current jumped between them and caused the rods to become incandescent. Although the rods burned very slowly, the carbon eroded over time and had to be replaced. The year was 1881 when Edison embarked on a better solution and the result of his success spread around the globe to both light and inadvertently curse the darkness.

For thousands of years, humankind lived in darkness after sunset with only the light of burning wood, wax or oil to provide illumination. From all but the largest cities, even a casual glance toward the night would reveal a black sky punctuated by the glow of over five thousand visible stars, the planets and the Milky Way arcing overhead. Our connection to the sky was quite profound. It filled our forebears’ minds with wonder, reminded that the Universe surrounded them and found its way into their most profound beliefs.

Today, electricity is plentiful, artificial lighting is ubiquitous but the night sky that was visible throughout all of human history is no longer with us. It’s been replaced by a soft glow from our urbanized areas. Now, for over two thirds of the world’s population, views of the Milky Way and all but the brightest stars and planets are hidden behind domes of faux daylight. These bright blankets continue to expand in all directions limiting our personal connection with the Universe to an ever dwindling number of inconveniently located, remote places.

The twenty-first century has imposed a lifestyle that is increasingly more focused on today than tomorrow for many. Lives filled with the pursuit of personal priorities and plentiful pleasures often makes the future, beyond next week, fuzzy and somewhat irrelevant to some. Modern soothsayers increasingly predict a coming reckoning due to our self-indulgence and disregard for children yet born. Ironically, this trajectory has made the consequences of our actions as dim as our view of the Cosmos in which we live.

Interestingly, for decades, astronomers have placed their instruments on high mountain peaks- far from urbanized areas where the light of human activity restricts their quest for mankind's true relationship with the boundless Universe. Now, increasing numbers of private astrophotographers are doing the same in an effort to capture a personal kernel of the truth because they, too, recongnize that on dark clear nights, you can see forever.

September 23- October 7, 2008

RCOS 20- inch, SBIG STL-11000

945 minutes Luminance, 180 minutes Red, 108 minutes Green and 216 minutes Blue, 435 minutes 6mn Hydrogen-alpha (All 1X1)