Stars, A Field Guide

Exploring stargazing sites across the globe...

Pravin Mishra, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Each Wednesday, our newsletter takes readers around the world, exploring a single theme through a number of places. We call it our Field Guide. For as long as humans have looked at the sky, the stars have inspired a sense of possibility and grandeur. Journey through the stars with us as we explore stargazing sites across the globe, beginning with Robyn Ross’s reflections on the movement to save Texas’s dark skies filled with celestial bodies. 

The Edge of Night

The movement to save Texas’s vast dark skies 

By Robyn Ross

When we set out to climb Enchanted Rock, the setting sun turns the 425-foot granite dome a blushing pink. I follow park interpreter Jessica DeBoer up the Summit Trail, a misnomer for the steep, virtually unmarked route we take up the bare face of the rock. Our labored breathing is punctuated by sounds that float up from the campground below: the inquisitive whoo of a barred owl, the fussy chirp of a mockingbird, a few human voices. At the top, we face the western horizon, where the distant hills form a crisp outline against the orange sky. Below us, vultures ride the thermals rising from the rock as it cools. A few bats flutter overhead, clicking and chirping.

An hour later, in full darkness, DeBoer points out the stars: first Deneb, the tail of Cygnus the swan, and then Ascella, Kaus Australis, and the six other stars in the western half of Sagittarius that form a teapot. Then the curve of the Corona Borealis. Then there are too many stars to count or name, and I lie down on the granite to take them in. A pale cloud, like cream curling through coffee, stretches across the sky: the Milky Way. This is our home galaxy, a spiral 100,000 light-years across; because Earth is part of that spiral, and we’re looking at it edgewise, the galaxy appears as a stripe across the sky instead of a spinning circle. The longer I stare into the dark, the more stars appear. Some are bright and seemingly close, some only a faint smudge of light.

This is the view—and the sense of awe—that dark-skies advocates in Texas are trying to protect. As the state’s population booms, artificial light has come between Texans and the stars. Cities including Houston, San Antonio and El Paso are replacing their streetlights with LEDs, which save money, but the bright white type of LED typically used creates more glare. The ever-expanding suburbs enlarge those cities’ light footprints, consuming the darkness as they grow. The oil and gas industry, and the housing and restaurants that spring up to service its workers, light chunks of the sky over the Permian Basin in West Texas and the Eagle Ford Shale south of San Antonio.

Continue reading here.

Did you Know?

Just off the northwestern coast of Africa, the Canary Islands are an ideal location for stargazing: 83 of the 88 constellations are visible from their shores. Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the islands are free from light pollution and are positioned in a geographical area with few clouds.

Over 70 percent of the world’s telescopes are located in Chile, many in the Atacama Desert, an arid region with low light pollution and 300 cloudless days a year. The largest telescope in the world, called the Extremely Large Telescope, is currently under construction there.

Did you Know?

In 2012, the NambiRand Nature Reserve in Namibia was certified as a Dark Sky Reserve. Located in the Namibian desert, the reserve protects more than 215,000 hectares of land with low light pollution.



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All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems… But all these stars are silent. You-You alone will have stars as no one else has them.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“On nights like this when the air is so clear, you end up saying things you ordinarily wouldn’t. Without even noticing what you’re doing, you open up your heart and just start talking to the person next to you—you talk as if you have no audience but the glittering stars, far overhead.”
― Banana Yoshimoto, Goodbye Tsugumi



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