This morning, I was ready for work with a few extra minutes to spare, so instead of wasting my time on Facebook, I walked over to the Seibels House and Garden, which I wrote about several months ago. I only had a few minutes, but I wanted to enjoy the coolness of the early morning, before the day’s heat. At 6:20am, it was still dark because the sun had not yet risen and a layer of clouds covered the sky.
But I still would not have seen many stars. I read an article the other day about light pollution created by humans and the resulting loss of the night sky. (I can’t find the link and I cannot remember whether I read it in The New Yorker or The Atlantic.) It saddened me.
In a modern society, light pollution is unavoidable near heavily populated areas. Cities produce light and the byproduct will inevitably be the lightening of the dark. I suppose it is an evolutionary trait we inherited from our forebears, who surely used fire to ward off the predators that lurked just beyond the light.
The article talked, however, about unnecessary light pollution, designed, ironically, to prevent crime. A security light meant to illuminate the murky areas where a criminal might lurk only creates a haze that blinds us to the danger in the shadows. Schools and businesses have found that buildings left dark draw far less vandalism than those lit up by security lights because that light is an inviting target–it draws you to it like a moth to a flame. And most street lamps and other outdoor lights project a glow upwards where it does no good to the area it is meant to light, below, and only drowns out the heavenly lights above.
I’ve started watching Cosmos on Netflix, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s 2014 followup to Carl Sagan’s famous 1980s miniseries. The film is beautifully written–Sagan was so far ahead of his time that little needed to be changed in the decades between his writing and the series’ production, despite monumental achievements like the first discoveries of alien worlds in the mid 1990s–and wonderfully produced, with CGI depictions of the stunning vistas of the universe and astounding displays of the night sky as seen before we ruined our view. Throughout the episodes, Tyson travels vast distances through time and space abroad a ship of the imagination, for which the laws of physics, the progress of time and the speed of light do not apply.
I am fascinated with space, particularly its incomprehensible scale and the unimaginable beauty that exists way out there and even beyond our sight. In far off places we’ve begun discovering worlds so similar to Earth that they likely harbor life and in the very least unparalleled landscapes. There are star nurseries, black holes, spiral galaxies and who knows what else.
All of this is too far away for us to visit anytime in the plausible future–we haven’t even gotten to Mars yet–and we do not possess a ship of the imagination. Human beings, certainly not myself, may never leave our solar system. But I want to travel to the farthest reaches of the cosmos.
I am not a religious person, but I am also not an atheist. I do not know what comes after death, but I hope there is something. I hope that death means the liberation of our souls from the constraints of our home planet. I hope that in death, I will become ubiquitous and that in my omnipresence, the stars will be within my reach. I want to witness the merging of Andromeda and the Milky Way several billion years from now, to travel back to the Big Bang and the moment of creation, to witness the next big bang that sends another verse spiraling off into the vast multiverse.
I hope there is more.
Last Friday, I set on my porch steps waiting for my friends to pick me up on their way to a bar and I looked up at the night sky. Only a few, faint stars shown but they were enough. I tried to imagine the vast distance between us and them, how long it had taken their light to reach us and what it might look like to gaze up at their night sky and see our little star twinkling faintly. Would we even recognize its light?