I’ve banged on here before about the splendour of the unobstructed night sky and the need for all of us to gaze up into it at least once in our lives. I’m going to do it again today, but with a new visual argument to bolster my stance (head back, neck crooked, back braced, eyes wide open…). A mere century ago my opening line would have been nonsensical to most people — certainly to the great majority who didn’t live in London, New York, Paris or one of the other large cities: the sky was ever present after sundown, the Milky Way even casting a shadow on moonless summer nights. Now, of course, 99% of us in North America are quite unable to see more than a few stars at night thanks to omnipresent light pollution.
It astonishes me that people flock to the Grand Canyon or to Niagara Falls to witness spectacular nature doing her thing and yet they would never think to make the effort to find a dark spot from which to gaze at the heavens in all their glory. And there are dark spots, some within day-trip distance from Canadian cities, others no further away than the cottage or camping destinations. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has developed guidelines for two sorts of viewing areas: dark sky preserves and urban star parks. (Only Saint John and Victoria have recognized star parks, alas.) But if you can’t stretch to a star-gazing road trip, even just a drive into the country and away from the worst of yellow urban glow can, on a moonless night, yield a million-fold more stars than are visible from downtown.
What I bring to my paean to starlight this time is a technical substitute for the real night sky, for all of you stay-at-home astronomers. And this one’s unusual. It’s a video put up by Coudal Partners, the Chicago design and advertising studio that’s been gracing the web with cool stuff for a long time now — a six hour video of the night sky over Great Basin National Park in the U.S. (You can read about the making of the video here.) Moreover, Coudal filmed it in ultra-high definition, so do yourself a favour, go to the YouTube site and watch it at full screen in 2100p — ideally with all of the lights in the room turned off.
It’s not just natural beauty or even a sense of wonder that I find in a good, clear, deep night sky, but as well a refreshed perspective on my puny, earthly frets and on my comical sense of hurry. Gazing into the sempiternal can do that for you, can “reboot” your drive, clean your windscreen, sober you up, and detoxify your fraught psyche — and put one hell of a crick in your neck.