The following image has been borrowed from David Dickinson’s In Search of Darkness: the Battle Against Light Pollution article over at Universe Today:
As gorgeous as that image is, however, what truly grabbed my attention was what he said in his opening paragraph (bold type added by me):
“A good majority of modern Americans have never seen truly dark skies. I was fortunate to grow up in northern Maine in the 1970s with skies dark enough to see the summer Milky Way right from my doorstep. For most of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, this is no longer the case. During the blackout brought on by Hurricane Sandy over the tri-state area in 2012 and after Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992, many urbanites got to see an unfamiliar sight first hand; a dark night sky. There were even calls to 9/11 reporting fires on the horizon, which were in fact the Milky Way!”
As soon as I’d read that last sentence, my mind flashed back over the years, first to my reading of the novel Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov…
“Nightfall” is a 1941 science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov about the coming of darkness to the people of a planet ordinarily illuminated at all times on all sides. It was adapted into a novel with Robert Silverberg in 1990. The short story has been included in 48 anthologies, and has appeared in six collections of Asimov’s stories. In 1968, the Science Fiction Writers of America voted Nightfall the best science fiction short story written prior to the 1965 establishment of the Nebula Awards, and included it in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.
The short story was published in the September 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine under editor John W. Campbell. It was the 32nd story by Asimov, written while he was working in his father’s candy store and studying at Columbia University. According to Asimov’s autobiography, Campbell asked Asimov to write the story after discussing with him a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!”
Campbell’s opinion to the contrary was: “I think men would go mad.”
And, second, to my own “first experience” of a truly dark sky, while traveling between job-sites at night in a remote section of Colorado. I was so amazed at the bright streak of stars across the sky I could see through the car’s windows that I decided to pull over so I could get out and marvel at what I was seeing. It wasn’t until I closed the car door, thus extinguishing the only man-made light for miles around, that the fear of being unable to see anything but the skies above hit me.
Hell, even the car seemed to vanish, and I found myself reaching out to touch it just to reassure myself that it was actually still there! As embarrassing as it is to admit, even after I calmed down enough to recognize that what I was seeing above me was the Milky Way I’d always read about but had only seen in pictures, my fear of being in such a truly dark place made it impossible for me to stay as long as I wish I had, all these years later!
Anyway, speaking of the bright lights of Earth, I thought I’d conclude with this awesome video from yet another Universe Today post: Another Incredible Timelapse from the ISS by Nancy Adkinson…
BTW, apparently Nightfall was made into a direct-to-video movie. Here’s the link to the Nightfall OFFICIAL Trailer…
I want ice water.
More from the Visual Treats volume