Astronomy

Less stars in the night, compared to 15-20 years back

Less stars in the night, compared to 15-20 years back


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I am not sure if my question is true or not. But this is what I observe regularly. When I was young and when I look at the sky, there were too many many stars were there. But now, from few months I'm observing the sky (by eyes, not any telescope), I see very few stars. Perhaps, countable.

Is it because:

  1. Stars are dead? (Not all) As I read somewhere, by the time you see the star, it would have been dead. Because, the light would've traveled so many years to reach earth. By the time, star would have completed 'X' light years and it is dead by now?

  2. Current position of the earth in galaxy: As I read, the earth will not always traverse in the same path around the sun. So the current view from the earth to the sky, may not have any star? (This is my guess/imagination, I'm not sure)

  3. Is it because of the city light/ pollution?

PS: Please be easy. May be the question is broad or simple, just want to know the brief answer and if its complete explanatory, I'm happy for that.


In my own case, if I see fewer stars than I did when I was younger, it's partly because my eyes have deteriorated with age. I don't know whether that applies to you.

The most likely explanation is increased light pollution. If you can manage to get to an area far enough away from city lights, on a cloudless and moonless night, you should see just as many stars as you did when you were younger.

Stars are dead?

No. All the stars you can see in the night sky are within a few hundred light-years of Earth. That means that you're seeing them as they were no more than a few hundred years ago. Most stars live for billions of years; the Sun, for example, is about 5 billion years old and is expected to live for another 5 billion or so years in essentially its current form. Some of the brighter stars have shorter lifespans (because they're larger and "burn" their nuclear fuel more quickly), but even they have lifespans of at least millions of years.

No naked-eye visible stars have "died" in the last several centuries. We do sometimes see stars explode (as novas or, more rarely, as supernovas), but I don't believe any of the stars that have done this were naked-eye visible before they exploded.

Current position of the earth in galaxy

No. The stars do move relative to each other, but not quickly enough for the motion to be visible over a human lifetime. Barnard's Star has the fastest proper motion of any star in the sky, but it only moves at about 10 arcseconds per year; it would take it nearly 2 centuries to move the width of a full Moon. And Barnard's star isn't even naked-eye visible. The stars you see in the night sky are in very nearly the same apparent positions as they were thousands of years ago.


If you've moved to an area with major aircraft traffic, you may be seeing fewer stars due to cirrus cloud formation. Such clouds are often subtle enough not to be visible as clouds but still block out starlight. For example: Forecasting Andean rainfall and crop yield from the influence of El Niño on Pleiades visibility

We find that poor visibility of the Pleiades in June-caused by an increase in subvisual high cirrus clouds-is indicative of an El Niño year, which is usually linked to reduced rainfall during the growing season several months later.

From the above, climate is obviously also a variable in star visibility.

Added:

Oh yes, aging is also a factor. The eyes opacify with age:

The normal aging processes in the eye mean that the retina of a 60 year old person recieves only about 30% of the amount of light seen by a person half that age.


Is it because:

  1. Stars are dead?
  2. Current position of the earth in galaxy?
  3. Is it because of the city light/ pollution?

It's not #1 or #2. It's #3, plus other factors.

  1. Light pollution.
    Anyone who lives in or near a large city (that probably describes most of the the stackexchange network members) won't be able to see as many stars as someone who lives a hundred kilometers away from that city. Light pollution is a growing problem to astronomical observatories, even those very far removed from cities.

  2. Loss of visual acuity.
    If you're an adult, your visual acuity isn't as good as it was when you were a child. Visual acuity peaks between 8 and 15 years of age, depending on who you read. After 15, it's all downhill.

  3. Different levels of humidity, particulates, and air pollution.
    You will see fewer stars than nominal if you live in an area with high humidity, high levels of particulates, or high levels of air pollution. If you made such a change in locale recently, you will remember seeing a lot more stars than you can see now.


A dying star weaves a spiral in the night

The number of ways stars can find to die bizarre deaths will never cease to amaze me.

Some explode, supernovae which blast radiation across the Universe. Others fade away slowly over hundreds of billions of years, longer than the cosmos has been around. Some blow off winds of gas and dust, taking on strange shapes from perfect spherical shells to elongated structures that look like two jellyfish kissing.

And then some - a very few - are like R Sculptoris, a red giant on the thin hairy edge of death. And its death is both spectacular as well as just plain old damned weird.

This is not a drawing! It’s actual data, observations of R Sculptoris made using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). ALMA looks at light far too low energy for our eyes to see it’s actually out past infrared in the spectrum. Cold dust and gas emits light at this wavelength, including carbon monoxide. That molecule is created copiously in red giants and shines brightly in the submillimeter, making it easy to see with ‘scopes like ALMA. That’s nice, because CO can be used as a tracer for other, harder to detect molecules like hydrogen. Looking at CO really tells you a lot about what’s going on in the gas and dust.

And what’s going on? Ah, this is the really cool part.

When a star like the Sun (either a bit less massive, or up to about 8 times as massive) ages, the core heats up, which causes the outer part of the star to expand (like a hot air balloon), turning it into a red giant. The details are complicated - read this post on a similar star where I explain it in more detail (and you want to because the details are awesome) - but the bottom line is that helium builds up in a thin shell outside the star’s core, where it fuses into carbon. The fusion rate is insanely sensitive to temperature, and periodic imbalances in temperature cause vast and very sudden increases in the fusion rate - and by sudden I mean over a timescale of just a handful of years, the blink of an eye to a star. Called a thermal pulse, this huge fireball of energy is dumped into the star’s interior, blows upward like a tsunami, and then blasts material clear off the star’s surface.

The result is an epic paroxysm which blows out a massive wave of material, expanding in a sphere around the star. We’ve seen this before, like in the star U Cam. After a few years, you get an eerie detached shell of expanding material, like a smoke ring trillions of kilometers across.

OK, so that’s the thin shell thing on the outside. So what’s the deal with R Sculptoris that makes that freaky inner spiral pattern?

I’m glad you asked! Unlike U Cam, R Sculptoris has a companion. It’s probably a smaller star, like a red dwarf or even something more like the Sun. It orbits the red giant once every 350 years, or, to be more accurate, the two stars orbit each other. As material from the red giant expands outward, the combined spin as the two stars’ dance forms the spiral pattern.

It’s like a rotating garden sprinkler. Each drop of water from the sprinkler goes straight outward, but each at a slightly different angle - like one drop heading due north, the next slightly east of north, the next slightly east of that, and so on around the compass points. To our eye, this looks like an expanding spiral, even though it’s made of individual drops moving radially out from the center. It’s an illusion of sorts.

This video might help. It was made using the ALMA observations, and shows the star starting about 250 years before the pulse. We see material expanding, then at t=0 there is the big pulse, forming the shell and spiral:

[If the video doesn’t load, refresh this page, or try this link.]

Amazingly, we’ve seen this sort of thing before too. LL Peg has a spiral of material around it, formed in much this way. Interesting: U Cam has the shell with no spiral, and LL Peg has a spiral with no shell. R Sculptoris is more awesomer than them, because it has both.

R Sculptoris has both a shell and a spiral because the thermal pulse had a very sudden, sharp beginning, but continued to drive material off the star’s surface for many years after that first wave. That initial blast expanded rapidly, so rapidly compared to the orbital period of the second star that it was essentially instantaneous. In other words, there wasn’t time to imprint the spiral pattern on it it expanded outward in a spherical wave. It eventually collided with material previously ejected by the star, got compressed it, and formed the the thin shell. But back at the star the pulse continued, blowing off more material over time. That was slow enough that the orbital motion of the two stars affected the expansion, creating the spiral pattern.

Using the ALMA observations combined with models of the star’s behavior, the scientists have found that this last pulse occurred 1800 years ago and lasted for 200 years. They were also able to estimate the amount of material blown away from the star: about 0.3% of the mass of the Sun.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, let me rephrase that for you: the mass ejected by this star in this two-century long event was a thousand times the mass of the Earth. Oh, and did I mention that all this material was blasted outward at 50,000 kilometers per hour?

The energy it took to eject this much material at this speed is very roughly the same amount of energy the Sun puts out over the same time period. So that thermal pulse added as much energy to R Sculptoris as our entire Sun emits. That’s actually rather terrifying.

But also very, very cool. Like I said way back at the beginning, it’s truly astonishing how many ways stars find to die. In that way they’re like people: some live their lives brightly and fast, blowing out in spectacular fashion, while others live dimly and just fade away. But others live normal lives, going about their everyday business, but when the day finally comes, they find the wherewithal to go out in truly amazing and heroic fashion.

Wait. Was I talking about stars or people?

Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) Video credit: Nature/M. Maercker et al./S. Mohamed/L. Calçada


Less than a million years ago, a supernova exploded just *600* light years away!

It's not very often that I read a paper and literally mutter, "holy crap" out loud.

I just read a paper that shows that a huge arc of ultraviolet-emitting gas 30 degrees long — 60 times the apparent width of the full Moon — encircles a vast area of the sky including the Big Dipper, and was likely caused by a supernova exploding just a few hundred light years from the Sun less than a million years ago.

This story starts over 20 years ago, when a pair of astronomers decided to map a large chunk of the sky using essentially a nice telephoto camera equipped with a filter that picks out the light from warm hydrogen gas in space. Gas like that preferentially emits light in the red part of the spectrum (at a wavelength 0.656 microns, if you like geeky numbers) so using a filter centered there blocks out a lot of extraneous light, letting faint hydrogen become visible.

Negative (black on white) image of the original filament discovery (arrowed). Credit: McCullough and Benjamin

They found something really weird: What looks like a straight line of gas in the sky stretching for about 2.5°, five times the size of the full Moon! That's very strange, and hard to figure out what could cause it. They concluded it was likely some hot object like a star plowing through space and exciting the gas around it, leaving a wake of glowing hydrogen behind it.

All these years later, one of those two astronomers decided to follow up on this. We now have great online tools that allow you poke at archived observations taken by telescopes that have previously surveyed the sky. One of these was a small orbiting observatory called the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, or GALEX. It surveyed the sky in two different colors of ultraviolet, and lo, they found the weird line segment in the data… but they also found two other segments right next to it, all aligned, forming an immense broken arc between the bowls of the Big and Little Dippers!

A map of the northern sky showing the extent of the visible arc, and the 60° circle it is likely a part of. Credit: Stellarium.org

It's only an arc, but obviously part of a circle. Extended all the way around, the circle is a staggering 60° across, easily large enough to engulf the Big Dipper and parts of several other constellations. As someone familiar with the sky, it's hard to explain just how ridiculously huge that is. It's like this: Imagine holding a meter stick with one end of the stick in each hand (so your hands are a meter apart). Hold it at arm's length against the sky, and that's roughly how big this object is. It covers over 6% of the entire sky.

(a) Original discovery image of the filament (b) part of the arc in GALEX data (c) part of the arc seen in a hydrogen-alpha survey of the sky (d) the full extent of the arc in GALEX data (each circle is a separate observation of the sky). Credit: Bracco et al.

What could this be? What could form such a structure? Well, the arc segments are very thin compared to their lengths (the length to width ratio is well over 100:1), and given that the overall shape is a circle, the best candidate is a supernova remnant, the expanding shell of gas blasted out from an exploding star. This would sweep up and compress the gas around it, creating a thin shell that would look like a soap bubble, a circle in the sky (assuming the expanding debris from the explosion is spherical).

But to be that huge in the sky means it happened pretty close by… and while the exact distance is unknown, the astronomers estimate the supernova probably happened around 600 light years away. That's close, though far enough away that there were little to no physical effects on Earth.

Given how fast the expansion would be, they also estimate it happened (very) roughly 700,000 years ago. So not recently, but then not so long ago astronomically speaking. Amazing.

The Cygnus Loop is a great example of a nearly circular nebula, the expanding debris of a star that exploded about 1500 light years away that forms a rough circle in the sky almost 3° across. Credit: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage) and WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

It's hard to say much more about it. It's so big and faint that it's difficult to measure much about it. One interesting aspect about it is that this area of the sky has a couple of spots in it known to have much lower density of hydrogen gas compared to other spots in the sky, making them "cleaner" windows into deeper space. This is where super deep images tend to be taken, like the Hubble Deep Field, which was located near the center of the structure. It's possible this is because the exploding star swept up material there, snowplowing it up and leaving behind less junk in space.

What an astonishing find! And all because of a funny straight glowing bit of stuff seen in a very deep image… but leading to a possible stellar explosion right in our back yard! One that close would be incredibly bright, far brighter than Venus in the sky. I wonder if our distant ancestors — intelligent tool users who looked very much as we do now and with brains just like ours — looked up in wonder at the new star in the night sky, brightening over a few days enough to cast shadows for weeks, and tried to understand what they were seeing?

Which, really, is just what we're doing now. We have the advantage of centuries of scientific thought and sophisticated tools to analyze it, though, so we can better understand what really happened out there, quadrillions of kilometers away and so many millennia ago.


Less stars in the night, compared to 15-20 years back - Astronomy

Why Astronomy in Botswana ?

Map of World Cloud Cover Averaged from 2002 to 2015 (NASA)

The rainy season in Botswana begins in October and finishes in April. The 5 months in between have little to no rain resulting in mostly clear nights – ideal for astronomical observation. While this year, 2021, has recorded higher than average rainfall in many parts of the country, some years record no rain from April through October, giving 7 months of potential clear viewing conditions.

The months of June, July and August rarely experience any rainfall and allow for the long-term planning of astronomical viewing and imaging events, trips and educational opportunities.

Original chart compiled by ASB with data extracted from various sources

The highest elevation in Botswana is 1489m on top of Otse Hill, Southwest of Gaborone. However, most of the country, other than the far Eastern and far Southwestern extremes, is above 1000m, or about 3280 feet, above sea level.

The Western and South central parts of the country, where elevations are high, corresponds to low population densities. This results in low ambient light conditions making stargazing conditions ideal.

It can be seen from the map above that most of Botswana has a population density of less than 1 person per square kilometre.

Few countries in the world have such low population densities, making dark skies the rule, not the exception, in Botswana.

Low population density not only results in less ambient light, it also results in lower levels of other frequencies of electromagnetic radiation. This is why the Southwestern part of the country has been chosen as the location for one of the dishes for the SKA (square kilometre array) radio telescope project which should be completed by the end of the decade. It will be the largest telescope (non-optical) in the world.

We are especially well situated on the planet, here in Botswana, to be able to see more stars than from almost anywhere else on Earth. This is true because on the longest night of the year (the winter solstice – this year happening at 23:43 Botswana time on June 20 th ), the galactic core (Milky Way Center) is situated almost directly overhead (See “Zenith” in the center of the above image – 4ᵒ away from the galactic center) in the constellation Sagittarius. This overhead position of the Galactic Center allows us to look back towards the center of the galaxy, where the densest array of stars and deep space objects can be found. This overhead position also allows us to look through the thinnest part of the atmosphere for the most hours, and, the end of June is one of the times of year when we, in Botswana, have the clearest skies. All in all it provides for a huge advantage to anyone wishing to view, or photograph, the Milky Way – including many of the brightest stars and most beautiful deep sky objects that can be seen from anywhere on the planet.

A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter. [1][2] The word galaxy is derived from the Greek galaxias (γαλαξίας), literally “milky”, a reference to the Milky Way. Galaxies range in size from dwarfs with just a few hundred million (10 8 ) stars to giants with one hundred trillion (10 14 ) stars, [3] each orbiting its galaxy’s center of mass.

Galaxies are categorized according to their visual morphology as elliptical, [4] spiral, or irregular. [5] [There is also a further sub-division of spiral galaxies with a ‘bar’ of stars extending each side of their centre – ‘barred spirals’. The Milky Way is thought to be one of these]. Many galaxies are thought to have supermassive black holes at their centres (see below).

The latest estimate is that there are more than 2吆 12 (two trillion!) galaxies in the observable Universe.

The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System, with the name describing the galaxy’s appearance from Earth: a hazy band of light seen in the night sky formed from stars that cannot be individually distinguished by the naked eye. Wikipedia

Radius: 52,850 light years

Stars: 250 billion ± 150 billion

Sun’s distance to Galactic Center: 26.4 ± 1.0 kly (8.09 ± 0.31 kpc)

The European Space Agency have produced a neat video of the Milky Way as part of their Gaia Mission – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5AdrupH788 – this is in the form of a journey from the centre and includes the main features of our Galaxy (traditionally given a capital ‘G’ when talking about our Galaxy as opposed to any other).

Here’s an ESA schematic of the main structures of the Milky Way (and other spiral galaxies):

The Galactic centre is the point about which our Galaxy is rotating. It is located roughly 24,000 light years from the Solar System in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, but cannot be seen in optical light due to heavy obscuration by interstellar dust grains along the line of sight. It is, however, observable at wavelengths that are not as affected by dust, in particular at infrared, radio and X-ray wavelengths.

Observations have revealed a complex radio source located very close to the Galactic centre. In particular, the compact radio and X-ray source Sagittarius A (SgrA*) has long been thought to be the location of a supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy.

This idea has gained strength through recent infrared observations which were used to plot the orbits of stars located within light hours of the Galactic centre. It was found that these stars have very tight and fast Kelperian orbits, around an object of about 3 million solar masses located at the position of SgrA*. The orbital characteristics of these stars indicate that this mass cannot be due to compact clusters of neutron stars, stellar size black holes or one of the many other suggestions that have been put forward over the years. The most likely explanation is that a supermassive black hole, similar to those that have been observed in the centres of other galaxies, also lies at the centre of our own.

An animation showing the orbits of stars observed in infrared radiation near the Galactic centre over several years is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eysecnh7yqc Such observations have allowed us to determine the mass of the central black hole from the simple application of ‘Kepler’s Laws’.

In 1958 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided to adopt the position of Sagittarius A as the true zero co-ordinate point for the system of galactic latitude and longitude. In the equatorial coordinate system the location is: RA 17 h 45 m 40.04 s , Dec −29° 00′ 28.1″ (J2000 epoch) (see below for the implications of this position).

This is an area of the sky with relatively low amounts of interstellar “dust” along the line of sight from the Earth (i.e. there is not as much extinction of light as there would be otherwise). This area is considered an observational “window” therefore. It is named for astronomer Walter Baade who first recognized its significance. This area corresponds to one of the brightest visible patches of the Milky Way. It is centered at Galactic longitude l=1.02 degree and Galactic latitude b=-3.92 degrees (i.e. not quite towards the Galactic centre itself).

Baade’s Window is frequently used to study distant central bulge stars in visible and near-visible wavelengths of light. Important information on the internal geometry of the Milky Way is still being refined by measurements made through this “window”. It is in the direction of the constellation of Sagittarius. [3] The window is now known to be slightly “south” of the main central galaxy bulge. The window is irregular in outline and subtends about 1 degree of the sky. It is centred on the globular cluster NGC 6522. [4]

Baade’s Window is the largest of the six areas through which central bulge stars are visible. [5]

Significance with respect to Astronomy in Botswana

The position of the Galactic Centre on the sky (as given by its ‘declination’ in the equatorial coordinates above) means that it passes directly overhead at some time every day at places on the Earth’s surface that are at latitude 29 degrees South of the equator. As the southern hemisphere at this latitude is mainly ocean, there are not many countries this latitude crosses (see map below).

This latitude is just south of Botswana in fact, but we are not far off. Its ‘Right Ascension’ (RA) in the equatorial coordinates above means that it is highest in the sky at midnight towards the solstice in June, which obviously is great for observations from Botswana (and all the other places on the map shown above) as it also coincides with the longest nights and generally a season of clearest and most stable weather.

Conversely, the maximum altitude of the Galactic Centre above the horizon gets progressively lower as one goes further North until at Northern European latitudes of around 53 degrees North, it is effectively never visible. Also, it hardly goes dark during summer solstice time in Northern Europe, so even if it were above the horizon it still wouldn’t be seen.

Other advantages for Botswana include very clear and dark skies compared to most places on Earth. It is also on average higher above sea level than Australia for example, which also helps because there is less atmosphere to be looking through.

It should be noted however that there are major international observatories in the Chilean Andes with very dark and much higher sites. For example, the long-established European Southern Observatory site at La Silla (used mainly for optical and infrared studies – https://www.eso.org/public/unitedkingdom/teles-instr/lasilla/) is at latitude 29.2 degrees South at an altitude of 2400m (highest point in Botswana is under 1500m). The newer ALMA Observatory (for sub-mm-wave studies – https://www.eso.org/public/unitedkingdom/teles-instr/alma/) is at around 23 degrees South and an altitude of over 5000m (one of the best observing sites in the World). There are several other major observatories in the Chilean Andes including Paranal (https://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/paranal-observatory/) nearby to which the world’s largest optical telescope, the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT – 39m primary mirror), is nearing completion (see https://www.eso.org/public/unitedkingdom/teles-instr/elt/).

For radio astronomy however, Botswana does have the great geographical advantage of being next to the main development of SKA Phase 1 in SA and expansion of the array into Botswana seems the next logical step. Botswana’s sparse population makes it a very radio-quiet part of the World too.


The Best Places for Stargazing in the West

Gone are the days when most people could look up and see the Milky Way. Our night skies are disappearing. Currently, 80 percent of the world is affected by light pollution , including an estimated 99% of people living in the continental U.S. and Europe. This has deprived many of us the chance to experience one of life’s simple joys and wonders—a brilliant star-filled sky.

So, if you’re missing the Milky Way, or perhaps you’ve never even had the chance to see it in the first place, plan a trip to one of these remote regions of the western U.S. to experience some of the best stargazing in the country.

8 Awe-inspiring Stargazing Destinations Where You Can Still See the Milky Way

1) Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument is named for what you would expect to find there, dinosaur bones and fossils, but it’s also a newly-designated Dark Sky Park. The monument spreads across the northeast corner of Utah and the northwest corner of Colorado between Salt Lake City and Denver, two cities where the National Park Service estimates residents can see less than 500 stars on any given night.

Drive a few hours away from these cities, however, and the monument offers visitors a visual treat of the some 4,500 stars visible from Split Mountain campground. If you’re camping, take advantage of the ranger-led full moon hike to Echo Park, named by the great explorer John Wesley Powell. From there you can call out to the celestials and listen to them return your cries as they echo back to you up to seven times downriver. Or, for a truly memorable experience, take in the night skies from the river on a multi-day rafting trip through Dinosaur National Monument. Both the Green and Yampa Rivers flow through the heart of the park and provide unparalleled access to this dark region.

According to a press release from the park, “Dinosaur National Monument has some of the darkest night skies in the United States. This darkness allows us to enjoy the stars just as people would have hundreds or even thousands of years ago.”

2) Big Bend National Park, TX

Of course, everything is bigger in Texas. Big Bend is one of the largest and yet least-visited national parks leaving it open for you to roam while finding plenty of solitude. The park entrance is 330 miles from the closest major airport in El Paso, possibly contributing to the limited number of visitors.

The remoteness of the park is what makes this place a big draw for stargazers, in addition to being listed as the national park with the least amount of light pollution in the lower 48. Located near the Mexico border, the park is best to visit during late winter and early spring before the temperatures become unbearably hot. There are three campgrounds to choose from, as well as daily backcountry permits for backpackers.

3) Joshua Tree National Park, CA

There are limited opportunities to see stars at all in southern California due to the large populations in the cities. Although Joshua Tree National Park is only 140 miles from one of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., it is one of the best stargazing locations available in this region of the west.

Located in the Mojave desert, Joshua Tree has little to no humidity which greatly reduces the possibility of cloud obstruction. The flat landscape of the desert offers a 360-degree view with only Dr. Seuss-like Joshua trees and knotty climbable boulders to obstruct your view.

The summer heat tends to keep most visitors at bay but you will likely be competing with crowds throughout the rest of the year. This area is a well-known rock climber and hiker’s destination throughout the year.

4) Arizona Sky Islands

Arizona’s diverse landscape and unique climate make for excellent viewing of the celestials. This southwestern state is littered with quaint, forested, high-elevation communities called sky islands, that offer little to no light pollution. These isolated mountain ranges explode out of the desert floor, giving you front row seats to bright skies at night.

The relatively arid climate allows for many cloudless nights, prime for cosmic viewing. The towns of Flagstaff, Patagonia, and Bisbee are common tourist destinations that offer an abundance of amenities for the traveling astrologers. If you really want to get away from it all, consider a trip to Alpine, a small town of approximately 150 people that sits at a towering 8,000 feet.

5) Canyonlands

No list would be complete without mention of one of Utah’s Mighty Five, which are known for their arches, spires, and unique geology, as well as some of the darkest skies in the country. Canyonlands National Park, which is l ocated a short drive from Moab and often overlooked for nearby Arches, is the least-visited of these five world-class parks. With three distinct districts—Needles, Island of the Sky and the Maze—to explore, however, outdoor enthusiasts who are willing to put in the extra effort can find rare national park solitude.

Stargazers should note the park was deemed an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. The Island in the Sky district is the most accessible stargazing area in the park and closest viewing spot for those overnighting in the Moab area. Photographers typically flock to the Mesa Arch for a chance to capture the iconic arch starlit on a clear night. Although, for the backcountry savvy, the remote Maze District is where you will find the darkest skies in the park. You will have to earn it by traversing the red rock country on a 4-wheel drive road for 3 to 6 hours from the Hans Flat Ranger Station, or opt for a multi-day Cataract Canyon rafting trip which floats through the heart of this isolated region.

6) Winthrop, Washington

Just a quick mountain pass drive from Washington state’s densely populated I-5 corridor, North Cascades National Park and the Methow Valley are an outdoor recreation mecca. Most visitors enjoy an active day of climbing, biking, or hiking and never know what they are missing after the sun goes down — a lifelong memory of Cassiopeia, Ursa minor, and other famous constellations.

Like most places on this list, the area is lightly populated lending to limited light pollution problems. What this northern Washington getaway may provide you that other stargazing spots in the lower 48 do not, is a good look at Aurora Borealis, better known as the Northern Lights. If you plan on making the trip in the summertime, be mindful of the potential of forest fires in the area as the smoke could spoil your night’s view.

7) Northeastern Oregon

The Wallowa Mountains are recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. Whether driving the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, backpacking to the Lakes Basin in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, or rafting down the Snake River in Hells Canyon, getting out into Oregon’s northeastern wild is really getting out there.

There are few places in America that give you the opportunity to stare upon the Milky Way while you are serenaded with bugling elk or howling wolves. One could call a visit here a once in a lifetime trip, but no one ever goes just once.

8) Montana Hi-Line

This spot on the map is often passed by on tours of America’s National Parks. Montana’s Hi-Line is a lesser-known region of the state that’s adjacent to U.S. Highway 2. This stretch of highway runs from Idaho to North Dakota, but once it exits Glacier National Park, the pavement hardly makes a turn.

The highway cuts through tallgrass prairie and the reputable “Big Sky” of Montana gives you horizon-to-horizon views that can feel almost limitless. The largest populated town on the Hi-Line, Havre, is located at 2,536 feet, making light population a non-issue in the prairies below.

Take a canoe trip down the Wild and Scenic Missouri River, and you’ll have a chance to look upon the stars in the same style and place as explorers like Lewis and Clark did. Choose a campsite at the American Prairie Reserve’s Buffalo Camp for a chance to see a shooting star streak above the outline of a wild bison.

9) Alaska

The high latitude of Alaska does not afford a lot of darkness in the summertime but avoiding the summer mosquitoes should be your first priority in your trip planning anyhow. As long as you pack the right gear to keep you warm and comfortable, the best stargazing in Alaska is in the fall, winter, and spring.

To see the world-renowned Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, you will have to take your best guess to when it will occur. They typically occur between late-September and early April, peaking in March. We currently do not have the technology to predict when the waves of green will appear in inland Alaska. Visiting one of the most northerly national parks, Denali, will offer you plenty to go explore while waiting to see the solar phenomenon.

Tips for stargazing

You can read about how to take your stargazing to the next level from OARS resident star expert, Lars Haarr, but here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:

  • If visiting a national park, swing into their visitor’s center. Most parks offer informative stargazing programs led by park rangers, identifying constellations and other cosmic highlights.
  • Schedule your stargazing to be within a couple of days before and after the new moon, when the moon is not visible in the sky. This will reduce the amount of light in the sky and allow you to see more individual stars.
  • Allow your eyes 20-30 minutes to adjust to the dark. Avoid white lights such as headlamps, headlights, and flashlights once your eyes have adjusted for the best experience.
  • Use a red light setting on your headlamp to reduce the impact on your night vision.
  • Download a constellation identification app on your smartphone or purchase a star chart and familiarize yourself with it before heading out on your stargazing mission to make the most of your trip.

An earlier version of this article was published in 2014. It was updated with new information and republished June 2020.

Photos: Night sky along the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument – OARS Joshua Tree National Park dark Sky – NPS/Brad Sutton Cataract Canyon rafting in Canyonlands – Whit Richardson Snake River Canyon – Bob Wick/BLM (CC BY 2.0) Alaska’s Northern Lights – Photo by McKayla Crump/Unsplash

By Whitney Chandler

Whitney Chandler is a freelance writer and marketeer for topics and organizations that share her passion of the outdoors, adrenaline sports and conservation.


Sleeping five hours or less a night associated with doubled risk of cardiovascular disease

Middle-aged men who sleep five hours or less per night have twice the risk of developing a major cardiovascular event during the following two decades than men who sleep seven to eight hours, according to research presented today at ESC Congress 2018.

Study author Ms Moa Bengtsson, of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, said: "For people with busy lives, sleeping may feel like a waste of time but our study suggests that short sleep could be linked with future cardiovascular disease."

Previous studies have generated conflicting evidence on whether short sleep is associated with a greater chance of having a future cardiovascular event. This study investigated this relationship in 50-year-old men.

In 1993, 50% of all men born in 1943 and living in Gothenburg were randomly selected to participate in the study. Of the 1,463 invited, 798 (55%) men agreed to take part. Participants underwent a physical examination and completed a questionnaire on current health conditions, average sleep duration, physical activity, and smoking. The men were divided into four groups according to their self-estimated average sleep duration at the start of the study: five or less hours, six hours, seven to eight hours (considered normal sleep duration), and more than eight hours.

Participants were followed-up for 21 years for the occurrence of major cardiovascular events, which included heart attack, stroke, hospitalisation due to heart failure, coronary revascularisation, or death from cardiovascular disease. Data on cardiovascular events were collected from medical records, the Swedish Hospital Discharge Registry, and the Swedish Cause of Death Register.

Men with incomplete data on sleep duration, incomplete follow-up information, or who had a major cardiovascular event before the start of the study were excluded, leaving a total of 759 men for the analyses.

High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, current smoking, low physical activity, and poor sleep quality were more common in men who slept five or fewer hours per night compared to those who got seven to eight hours.

Compared to those with normal sleep duration, men who slept five or fewer hours per night had a two-fold higher risk of having a major cardiovascular event by age 71. The risk remained doubled after adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors at the start of the study including obesity, diabetes, and smoking.

Ms Bengtsson said: "Men with the shortest sleep duration at the age of 50 were twice as likely to have had a cardiovascular event by age 71 than those who slept a normal amount, even when other risk factors were taken into account."

She continued: "In our study, the magnitude of increased cardiovascular risk associated with insufficient sleep is similar to that of smoking or having diabetes at age 50. This was an observational study so based on our findings we cannot conclude that short sleep causes cardiovascular disease, or say definitively that sleeping more will reduce risk. However, the findings do suggest that sleep is important -- and that should be a wake-up call to all of us."


What is the impression under a Bortle 1 sky?

Nice but in this case you have to understand that a photo is not even a tenth of the real thing.

In this case, photons gathered over time on a chip or film do not even approach the experience of realtime vision.

As is the case for many objects which are notoriously difficult to photograph realistically due to inherent brightness variations in the object, every possible choice of exposure settings will be a compromise.

A Bortle-1 MW really has to be experienced first hand.

IMO everyone who loves the night sky should find a way to get to a true dark site at least once in their lifetime.

CS

Bob

#52 LDW47

Here is a picture above the high western hills I tried to take with my p’n’s cam, about 15-20 secs worth but justice wasn’t done that dark nite ! Thats either Jupiter, I think, or maybe Saturn to the left ?

Attached Thumbnails

Edited by LDW47, 03 February 2020 - 11:51 PM.

#53 Rocklobster

Saw my first dark sky a few years back. My first thought was that it was fake. If I had seen that same sky in a planetarium I would have said, "come guys, try to make it look real". It was absolutely breath-taking. Here is an image I took that night. (Cassiaopia region, many little treasures in the photo)

Sent from my N10 using Tapatalk

#54 Rocklobster

Nice but in this case you have to understand that a photo is not even a tenth of the real thing.
In this case, photons gathered over time on a chip or film do not even approach the experience of realtime vision.
As is the case for many objects which are notoriously difficult to photograph realistically due to inherent brightness variations in the object, every possible choice of exposure settings will be a compromise.
A Bortle-1 MW really has to be experienced first hand.
IMO everyone who loves the night sky should find a way to get to a true dark site at least once in their lifetime.

I understand very well about having to "experience it". I've only been, once, to a B3 site from my B5-6 garden and I spent most of the night just looking up in awe. barely using my XT8. That being said, I find it hard to believe that, even in a B1 site, the naked eye view would be deeper and brighter than the image posted that you replied to.

Please understand that I'm VERY happy to be wrong as that would be amazing. I just cannot imagine a better view than that image.

Sent from my N10 using Tapatalk

#55 Starman1

I have never seen a Bortle 1 sky in my life. I have seen several Bortle 3 skies, and Bortle 2 skies a few times (sadly, before I was into astronomy).

1.What is the impression under a perfect, pristine sky?

2.What does the Milky Way look like?

3.What does the zodiacal light look like?

4.What do stars look like?

5.How much color do you see in the sky?

6.Can you see your surroundings?

7.I have seen reports about people getting lost in the constellations, and not being able to discern even well-known asterism such as the Big Dipper. Note: we talk great skies here, with little atmospheric extinction, perfect seeing, little humidity etc (of course, no moonlight! And preferably, no Venus up. ). I know a a few of you have been fortunate enough to experience such skies. Please share your experiences!

1. Mostly, the difference is from 45° altitude and down. I have been at sites where magnitude 5-6 stars were visible on the horizon, and, qualitatively, such sites are worth every minute it took to get there.

The sky is magnificent, with 30+ Messier objects and many NGCs visible to the naked eye.

2. The Milky Way is wide and heavily detailed. You can see the bulge with averted vision all the way out to α and ß Librae. The Dark Horse is easy with direct vision and all the Messiers from M7 up to M11 are naked eye.

Even the dark nebulae on the northern border of M24 stand out.

3. I noticed it was distinctly yellow compared to a silver-white color for the Milky Way, and it extended well past the zenith. Later, the Gegenschein is visible opposite the sun and, if you're lucky about transparency, the entire zodiacal band is visible around the sky except, perhaps, where it crosses the MW.

4. Stars are very bright, not subdued. On one stupendous night in such surroundings, Orion seemed to have at least 500 naked eye stars.

5, 6. The background sky is silver-grey and unless you are in a meadow with high grass, you can easily see to walk around. I can walk into the trees, stand a minute, then turn around to look out and notice the field I just left is quite bright and well-illuminated, just by the light of the sky. In fact, looking at the sky itself is enough to affect your maximum night vision. Stare at the ground for a while and look up and you will feel your pupils contract. When you look down again, you'll notice a loss of the deepest dark adaptation. Everyone seems to think you cannot see your surroundings or even your hands and feet. But that is just true the first minute after arriving at such a site, when you first step out of your car.

7. This is only true for people whose only previous experience looking at the stars was in heavily light-polluted cities. The bright stars seem even brighter, and picking out the constellations is EASIER, not harder.

And faint constellations like Lynx, Camelopardalis, Equuleus, Sculptor, Fornax, Leo Minor, et,al. become easy and have multiple stars.

One such night in SE Arizona in the Chiricahua mountains we had "the Veil Lift" and we got to see the night sky as it exists only at the best places on Earth. Tom Polakis was there that night. His comment to me was to enjoy it, because "it was as good as it gets on Earth". He has a lot more experience at such sites than I, but I can take him at his word, because I've only seen skies like that a few times in my life. In fact, I was disappointed at Mauna Kea, because it wasn't as good as that night in Arizona.

One other night at Mt. Pinos in SoCal (8350'), only 100 miles from LA, 4 of us were treated to a sky the likes of which hasn't been the norm since 500 years ago. The entirety of SoCal, all the way to the eastern desert, was covered with 6000' of thick ground fog and low clouds. None of the surrounding cities had any light visible and the horizon had no light visible in any direction. My wide SQM read 21.95 and oxygen glow banding was visible in the west after sunset.

A low power view of M42 showed nebulosity continuous all the way well past the Running Man Nebula and Barnard's Loop was visible all the way to Rigel by simply holding an H-ß filter up to your eye.

My 12.5" saw a dark lane in the bridge from M51 to NGC5195, a "D" shaped bright area around 5195 and 3 distinct "fingers" pointing away from M51. And M51 was heavily detailed, with knots down all the visible spiral arms. And M51 had a "feathery" spiral arm extending well out in the direction opposite the companion. It was the closest to photographic I've ever seen it. M101 was a huge fan shape, with an off-center core and a "dog-leg" arm extending well out, making the galaxy look like a skate or ray. There were innumerable knots in the spiral arms, but I didn't think to identify them all. It was the impression of all of us that we could tell when the sun had passed the nadir, because the east looked slightly brighter than the west. We time astronomical twilight to when the sun drops below the horizon by 18°, but on such nights, we can tell where the sun went down for hours after that. The Gegenschein was in Virgo and was a large oval.

An amazing night. I could go on and on.

The point is that such a night can extend your reach in any telescope, and they are rare nights. I tend to think of them as "Bortle 1+" because they take the pristine site and add incredible transparency.

Even being an experienced observer doesn't let you know how much better it can be until you experience it. I can see a distinct difference in the sky with every 0.2 magnitude gain in darkness from 21.0 to 22.0, but

when superb transparency is added, that sky is a "lifetime memory".

#56 BrooksObs

I've never heard of structure being visible in the Zodiacal Light, or seen it myself. Can you point me to a reference where this point is elaborated on?

At dark sites, I have used the Gegenschein as a sort of natural clock. It can be picked up only 10 or 15 degrees above the horizon if the sky is transparent.

Tom

Tom - Back in the mid 1960's Harvard Observatory mounted a pro-am expedition to Africa to gather detailed visual observations of the Zodiacal Light. Their initial results were cited on a then current IAU Circular that I received, noting that they found the Light was not simply uniform in its nature. Rather, they reported seeing numerous subtle substructures within the main body of the Light. which they indicated PROGRESSIVELY ALTERED THEIR RELATIVE POSITIONS NIGHT-TO-NIGHT.

There should be a final scientific report penned by the expedition's team leaders somewhere in the Harvard Annals, or perhaps an associated publication, but I have never bothered to look for such in my many trips to the Harvard Library simply because the ZL was never of specific observational interest to mine.

Edited by BrooksObs, 04 February 2020 - 04:32 PM.

#57 Bob4BVM

I understand very well about having to "experience it". I've only been, once, to a B3 site from my B5-6 garden and I spent most of the night just looking up in awe. barely using my XT8. That being said, I find it hard to believe that, even in a B1 site, the naked eye view would be deeper and brighter than the image posted that you replied to.

Please understand that I'm VERY happy to be wrong as that would be amazing. I just cannot imagine a better view than that image.

Sent from my N10 using Tapatalk

Hard to describe what I meant. Not saying it is " deeper and brighter" than the photo, but different in the way that direct visual differs from any time exposure photo. Compare an object like M42 as a good example- a deep photo either shows the inner stellar details or the vast expanse of the nebulosity, but never both. Whereas a visual in a good sky you see both types of detail in the overall image formed on your retina. Totally different thing, a richer and truer experience, and a most amazing one whether that sort of diverse-brightness is seen in naked eye object like the MW, or telescopic objects.

I certainly did not mean to degrade the photo, it is magnificent. Yet it is still limited as it does not capture the sheer 3-D expanse of the first-person experience.

Obviously I am still struggling to put that experience into words. I tend to have that problem when experiencing things so humbling as standing before the full glory of the Heavens under a perfect sky.

#58 sunrag

#59 MEE

The boundaries of the Milky Way will be noted to extend far beyond what photos ever suggest and likewise that seen in nearly all published maps. By example, in the Cygnus/Lyra region the western boundary of the Milky Way is traceable far into Hercules, often almost up to the Keystone, while closer to the galaxy's hub it extends well beyond westernmost Libra and an equal distance from the galactic center to the east. BrooksObs

Are there any other faint extensions of the Milky Way that are only seen from Class 1 skies? I’ve read that the MW can extend from M31 to Polaris in the Northern Hemisphere autumn- any others in other seasons?

Southern Hemisphere observers- anything to add?

#60 MEE

Estimation of how much (in magnitude) is lost due to atmospheric extinction (assuming no light pollution in that direction)

Shows how 6th mag stars can be seen close to the horizon when limiting magnitude is in the upper 7s overhead

#61 Rocklobster

1. Mostly, the difference is from 45° altitude and down. I have been at sites where magnitude 5-6 stars were visible on the horizon, and, qualitatively, such sites are worth every minute it took to get there.
The sky is magnificent, with 30+ Messier objects and many NGCs visible to the naked eye.
2. The Milky Way is wide and heavily detailed. You can see the bulge with averted vision all the way out to α and ß Librae. The Dark Horse is easy with direct vision and all the Messiers from M7 up to M11 are naked eye.
Even the dark nebulae on the northern border of M24 stand out.
3. I noticed it was distinctly yellow compared to a silver-white color for the Milky Way, and it extended well past the zenith. Later, the Gegenschein is visible opposite the sun and, if you're lucky about transparency, the entire zodiacal band is visible around the sky except, perhaps, where it crosses the MW.
4. Stars are very bright, not subdued. On one stupendous night in such surroundings, Orion seemed to have at least 500 naked eye stars.
5, 6. The background sky is silver-grey and unless you are in a meadow with high grass, you can easily see to walk around. I can walk into the trees, stand a minute, then turn around to look out and notice the field I just left is quite bright and well-illuminated, just by the light of the sky. In fact, looking at the sky itself is enough to affect your maximum night vision. Stare at the ground for a while and look up and you will feel your pupils contract. When you look down again, you'll notice a loss of the deepest dark adaptation. Everyone seems to think you cannot see your surroundings or even your hands and feet. But that is just true the first minute after arriving at such a site, when you first step out of your car.
7. This is only true for people whose only previous experience looking at the stars was in heavily light-polluted cities. The bright stars seem even brighter, and picking out the constellations is EASIER, not harder.
And faint constellations like Lynx, Camelopardalis, Equuleus, Sculptor, Fornax, Leo Minor, et,al. become easy and have multiple stars.

One such night in SE Arizona in the Chiricahua mountains we had "the Veil Lift" and we got to see the night sky as it exists only at the best places on Earth. Tom Polakis was there that night. His comment to me was to enjoy it, because "it was as good as it gets on Earth". He has a lot more experience at such sites than I, but I can take him at his word, because I've only seen skies like that a few times in my life. In fact, I was disappointed at Mauna Kea, because it wasn't as good as that night in Arizona.

One other night at Mt. Pinos in SoCal (8350'), only 100 miles from LA, 4 of us were treated to a sky the likes of which hasn't been the norm since 500 years ago. The entirety of SoCal, all the way to the eastern desert, was covered with 6000' of thick ground fog and low clouds. None of the surrounding cities had any light visible and the horizon had no light visible in any direction. My wide SQM read 21.95 and oxygen glow banding was visible in the west after sunset.
A low power view of M42 showed nebulosity continuous all the way well past the Running Man Nebula and Barnard's Loop was visible all the way to Rigel by simply holding an H-ß filter up to your eye.
My 12.5" saw a dark lane in the bridge from M51 to NGC5195, a "D" shaped bright area around 5195 and 3 distinct "fingers" pointing away from M51. And M51 was heavily detailed, with knots down all the visible spiral arms. And M51 had a "feathery" spiral arm extending well out in the direction opposite the companion. It was the closest to photographic I've ever seen it. M101 was a huge fan shape, with an off-center core and a "dog-leg" arm extending well out, making the galaxy look like a skate or ray. There were innumerable knots in the spiral arms, but I didn't think to identify them all. It was the impression of all of us that we could tell when the sun had passed the nadir, because the east looked slightly brighter than the west. We time astronomical twilight to when the sun drops below the horizon by 18°, but on such nights, we can tell where the sun went down for hours after that. The Gegenschein was in Virgo and was a large oval.
An amazing night. I could go on and on.

The point is that such a night can extend your reach in any telescope, and they are rare nights. I tend to think of them as "Bortle 1+" because they take the pristine site and add incredible transparency.
Even being an experienced observer doesn't let you know how much better it can be until you experience it. I can see a distinct difference in the sky with every 0.2 magnitude gain in darkness from 21.0 to 22.0, but
when superb transparency is added, that sky is a "lifetime memory".

What do you mean when you say "veil lift"?

Thanks for your detailed post. I hope I experience what you wrote about one day.


The Institute for Creation Research

Man has always been intrigued and fascinated by the heavens. The scholars of antiquity, whether in Sumeria, Egypt, China, Mexico or any of the other early civilizations were well versed in the locations and orbits of all the visible stars. They had counted and catalogued and grouped them all and had pronounced the total number to be almost two thousand stars!

But the Holy Scriptures were far ahead of these ancient scientists. According to the Bible, the stars were as great in number as the sands of the seashore (Genesis 22:17) and simply could not be numbered! The vast reaches of the heavenly spaces were&mdashand are&mdashutterly incomprehensible to man. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).

The giant telescopes of the present day have only begun to reveal the immense numbers and fantastic variety of the stars. With literally billions of galaxies, and billions of stars in every galaxy, the number of the stars seems to increase almost without limit. The variety is equally amazing&mdashred giants, white dwarfs, Cepheid variables, neutron stars, pulsars, and on and on! As the Bible says in an incisive foregleam of modern astronomy: "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory" (I Corinthians 15:41).

Origin and Purpose of the Universe

The origin and purpose of the stars was no more perplexing to the ancient stargazers than to our modern astronomers. There is no shortage of theories, of course, and new theories are developed rather frequently purporting to explain the origin and evolution of the universe.

But, one after another, each new theory eventually seems to encounter such problems and difficulties that it falls by the wayside and is eventually abandoned. In a recent review of modern cosmology, a leading astronomer has said:

The author concludes his survey of cosmology by stating:

The two leading types of cosmological theories currently are the "steady-state" and "big bang" theories. Both of these are evolutionary theories and each includes the "expanding universe" concept, according to which the galaxies are all rapidly receding from one another. The "steady-state" theory has also been called the "continuous creation" theory, attempting to explain the decay and disappearance of matter and energy by the continual evolution (not "creation") of new matter out of nothing. The "big bang" theory is usually also known as the "oscillating universe" theory, supposing that the universe continuously alternates between processes of expansion and contraction and that its present expansion began with a super-dense state following its most recent contraction about twenty billion or so years ago.

Within the framework of either type of cosmology, numerous subsidiary theories of galactic and stellar evolution have been published, dealing with the supposed development of particular types of stars or galaxies or clusters of galaxies from other types. The very variety of stars and galaxies tends to encourage such evolutionary speculation.

Stability of the Heavens

Nevertheless, it should be quite obvious that such evolutionary processes cannot actually be observed. No astronomer has ever observed a "red giant" evolving into a "white dwarf," or a "spiral nebula" into a "globular cluster," or any other such change. Within the time of human observation, no such evolutionary changes have ever been seen to occur at all.

This being the case, there is nothing whatever to prevent us from proposing the theory that they don't take place! This is by far the most reasonable theory, since it is supported by all the actual astronomic measurements that have ever been collected since man first began making such observations. If we limit ourselves to real, observational science, rather than indulging in philosophical speculation, we would have to say that the stars and galaxies have always been just as they are now since the time they were created.

Is the Universe Expanding?

Someone may object to such a suggestion by contending that the universe is expanding and therefore evolving. This deduction is not necessary, however. In the first place, whether or not the universe is actually expanding is still an unsettled question. The famous "Doppler effect"&mdashthe red shift in the light spectra from distant galaxies&mdashis the only observational basis for such expansion, and this interpretation has been challenged by various cosmologists, especially in view of the anomalous red shifts recently noted in quasars.

Assuming, however, that the universe really is expanding, in accordance with the standard interpretation of the red shifts, there is still no proof that this phenomenon is part of some evolutionary process. The expansion could just as well have been initiated by an act of creation at any arbitrary position of the various galactic components of the universe.

Fiat Creation

Not only is the concept of special complete creation most logical and consistent in accord with God's character and ability, but it is surely the concept most in accord with Biblical revelation on this subject. "For in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is" (Exodus 20:11). On the fourth of these days, "He made the stars" (Genesis 1:16). "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them" (Genesis 2:1). By the word of the Lord were the heavens made and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth . . . For He spoke, and it was done He commanded, and it stood fast" (Psalm 33:6, 9).

The idea of a simple fiat creation of the entire universe in its present form may seem too naive to evolutionary astronomers and cosmologists. Nevertheless, it fits all the facts of observational astronomy more easily and directly than does any other theory. The objection that special creation is not scientific because it is non-observable is irrelevant, since exactly the same objection applies to any of the evolutionary models. Who has ever observed a star evolve, or a "big bang," or an evolution of matter out of nothing?

Comparison of Evolutionist and Creationist Models

Although no model of origins can be scientifically tested&mdashsince one cannot repeat history&mdashany such model can be used to predict and correlate the observable data which result from that history. The model which most effectively does this is the one most likely to be correct.

Any evolutionary model of the universe must conflict with one of the most fundamental laws of science, namely the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law formalizes the observed fact that, within those regions of space and time which are accessible to observation, the universe is decreasing in complexity and in availability of energy. The evolutionary model must, however, postulate a universe that has instead evolved upwards toward higher states of order and availability. Since the Second Law always appears to hold true in observable space and time, an evolutionary model must include some component which negates the Second Law in non-observable space and time. The steady state theory supposes that energy or matter somehow came into existence out of nothing far out in non-observable space. The big bang theory supposes that energy or matter somehow came into existence out of nothing (or at least out of some state of things completely incommensurate with the present state of things) far back in non-observable time. There is, of course, no way of testing any process which operates in non-observable space or time!

The creation model, on the other hand, specifically predicts the conditions described by the two laws of thermodynamics. It postulates a primeval perfect and complete creation, preserved in quantity (First Law) but decaying in quality (Second Law). As a matter of fact, the two laws point directly back to a period of special creation. The Second Law says the universe must have had a beginning&mdashotherwise it would already be completely disordered. The First Law (conservation of mass-energy) says it could not have begun itself. Thus, the Cause of its beginning must be greater than the universe and external to it. The omnipotent, omniscient, eternal God of the Bible is the only Cause adequate to produce the universe as we know it.

The Nature of the Universe

The creation model must attempt to explain the various aspects of the universe, not in terms of evolutionary development (for it assumes they did not evolve at all but were created) but rather in terms of creative purpose. This is no small task, in view of the infinite variety of stellar systems, but it is no more difficult, nor less susceptible to empirical test, than imaginary evolutionary explanations for the same things.

Why, for example, is the universe so big, and why are there so many different kinds of stars and galaxies and inter-stellar phenomena? Why are the moon and the other planets barren of life? What is the purpose of pulsars and quasars? And so on. It is obviously much easier to raise such questions than to answer them, whether in terms of evolutionary mechanisms or of creative purposes.

We can see a number of reasons for the visible stars at least. They are useful for light, for navigation and for chronology. They are a source of beauty and inspiration for mankind. Furthermore, every new discovery in the stellar heavens adds that much more to our amazement at the vastness of power and variety in the Creator. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). Surely the enlargement of our appreciation of Him is a worthwhile purpose for the stars to have.

The barrenness of the moon and planets, as well as the intense heat of the stars, emphasizes the Biblical teaching that "the heavens are the Lord's: but the earth hath He given to the children of men" (Psalm 115:16). U.F.O. enthusiasts to the contrary notwithstanding, there is no evidence either in science or Scripture that biological life exists elsewhere in the universe. Life was created specifically for the earth, and the earth for life. Of all other bodies in the universe, the moon would be expected to have most nearly the same (evolutionary) origin as the earth, but the lunar explorations have eliminated such a notion.

The same situation apparently exists with respect to all the other planets in the solar system.

Thus the earth is unique in the solar system and, for all we know, the solar system is unique in the universe. So far as we can observe, there are not even any planets anywhere else, let alone a planet equipped to sustain biological life. And even if there were, with even the nearest star being four light-years distant, there is no rational possibility of our ever being able to communicate with such hypothetical space-people on such hypothetical planets.

Amazing though it may seem to evolutionary naturalists, the evidence favors the conclusion that man is unique in the universe and, furthermore, that he is the apex, not of the evolutionary process, but of God's creative purposes! Even the galaxies, therefore, are inferior to man. Isaac Asimov, certainly not a creationist, has nevertheless recognized this fact.

The physical universe of space and time and all the phenomena of energy and matter and life that occur in space and time must somehow be related to man and to God's purpose for man. In the present economy of things, however, man is inescapably confined to only a tiny corner of the vast universe. The fulfillment of the Creator's purposes for man in the universe (and they will be fulfilled, since an omnipotent and omniscient God, by definition, cannot fail in His purposes) must therefore await the establishment of a new economy of things, in an age to come.

The Heavenly Host

In the meantime, there is still another "host of heaven," described in the Bible as an "innumerable company of angels" (Hebrews 12:22). The frequent identification of angels with stars in the Bible (note Job 38:7 Revelation 12:4 and many others) is most intriguing, especially in view of the fact that there is no similarity between them whatsoever. The same mysterious correlations are found everywhere in ancient mythology, the gods and goddesses (Jupiter, Venus, Orion, etc.) being identified with various stars, planets and constellations. The age-long influence of astrology, even on people of intelligence and culture, is another strange phenomenon. And now, in an almost unbelievable return to these ancient pagan mysteries, modern scientific speculations about the evolution of life in other worlds have been transmuted into a weird celestial drama of ancient astronauts, flying saucers, little green men and "chariots of the gods."

The reality behind all these "fearful sights and great signs from heaven" (Luke 21:11) can only be that there really is life in outer space! But these living inhabitants of the heavenly bodies are neither super-men in space ships nor blobs of protoplasm in various stages of evolution. They are, rather, "angels that excel in strength" (Psalm 103:20), "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14), none other than God's holy angels. There exists also in the heavens a vast horde of rebel angels, following "that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world" (Revelation 12:9).

These are all real beings, living a real existence in this real physical cosmos. However, they are spiritual beings, not physical, and thus are not restrained by the gravitational and electro-magnetic forces which control bodies formed of chemical elements. On occasion, however, the faithful angels have been known to have power to "materialize" themselves in human form (Hebrews 13:2), and the fallen angels, or demons, to "possess" human or animal bodies (Matthew 8:28-32).

Thus there is a host of stars without number in the heavens and also an innumerable angelic host of heaven. The latter apparently inhabit the former and are thus, in both Scripture and mythology, intimately inter-related.

But if only angels can ever reach the stars, why has God placed such a strange fascination and yearning for the heavens in the heart of man? Jesus answers: "For in the resurrection they . are as the angels of God in heaven" (Matthew 22:30). To the prophet Daniel, the angel said: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:2, 3).

In resurrection bodies, unfettered by gravity, the redeemed of the Lord will thus have an eternity of time to explore the infinitude of space. Though the earth will still be his home, man will finally reach the stars.


12 Best Places for Stargazing in the United States

Stargaze thousands of miles from any harmful lamps

Above a 14,000-foot volcano is the best observatory in the world. (CC) Christosnyc

Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Sixty times larger than the Hubble telescope and high above a 14,000-foot volcano is perched the Mauna Kea observatory. This location is the prime place to view the stars due to its dry atmosphere and cloud-free skies. It gets very little light pollution, especially since it’s smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Glimpse the divine Southern Cross in Florida’s Big Pine Key

The Milky Way from the Florida Keys. (CC) Art Mullis

Big Pine Key, Florida

Big Pine Key is one of the most sparsely populated areas in Florida and is relatively free of that awful light pollution. It’s also the only place in the continental U.S. where you can glimpse stars usually only seen by those living closer to the equator, including the Southern Cross constellation. Since Florida nights are hot, you’ll be stargazing comfortably in tank tops and shorts.

Do a starlit hike in Colorado

Meteorite Shower at the Rocky Mountain National Park (CC) Wayne Boland

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The higher you climb, the further you’ll get away from the city lights of nearby Boulder and Denver and experience the darkness that reigns in the higher altitudes of Rocky Mountain National Park. Winter is the best time for stargazing because of the cooperation of atmospheric conditions.

Feel tiny under the shadow of the Milky Way

The perfect camping destination. Cherry Springs State park. (CC) John Blough

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

This remote park is one of the best places to stargaze on the East Coast and is one of the few International Dark Sky Parks in the U.S. For the sake of stargazing, keep your flashlight angled to the ground or use a red light filter to help protect the skies. Under the best conditions, the Milky Way is so bright it actually casts a shadow!

Twinkling lights above, below and behind you

The Griffith Observatory and the lights of L.A. (CC) Ron Reiring

Griffith Observatory, California

Perched up high and away from the distraction of the Los Angeles city lights, you’ll be able to see stars and planets thanks to some very powerful equipment. Not only that, you’ll be within sight of the Hollywood sign and get a fantastic view of the city. The observatory has also been the set of movies like “Rebel Without a Cause” and several “Terminator” movies.

8 Incredible Weekend Getaways in Southern California for Every Traveler

See the bridge separating heaven and earth

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

This national park has a program that will teach you about the ins and outs of astronomy. Following the informative sessions, they provide you with telescopes to get a closer look at the stunning spectacle of stars that takes place in this Gold International Dark Sky Park.

A possible portal to visit Andromeda

Big Bend National Park, Texas

The lack of clouds, low humidity and remote location of Big Bend National Park lets its visitors see the Andromeda galaxy, 2 million light-years away! Remember to visit during a moonless night (May 28, June 27, July 26). This park is another “International Dark Sky Park“, so you are likely to be joined by a bevy of astronomers who have helpful tips and tricks during your stargazing expedition.

11 Weekend Getaways in Texas | Ready and Rarin' to Hit the Road

One step closer to Heaven in Death Valley

Death Valley, Nevada

With less than two inches of rain a year (clear skies) and as the newest member of the International Dark Sky Park club, Death Valley guarantees the perfect stargazing conditions. Spring and Fall offer the comfiest nighttime temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s.

Don’t trip over a dino footprint in this Dark Sky park

The sky at Clayton Lake will make you feel tiny. (CC) Essayru

Clayton Lake State Park, New Mexico

This bird sanctuary has become a mecca for avid stargazers. This is another Dark Sky Park, and officials often put on stargazing parties that provide information and tips for visitors. Another cool feature of the park is the abundance of dinosaur footprints.

Stargaze with your toes in the ocean

Perfect spot to view the Northeastern Sky (CC) Christopher Seufert

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

The night sky over Cape Cod provides clear views of a gorgeous sky. Locals recommend Surfside Beach, Nantucket Island and Chatham Light Beach for the best stargazing since they are removed enough from the distracting lights of residents. Since summer is tourist season, catch the best views during the off-season in late fall, winter and early spring.

Stargaze in solitude, surrounded by avian life (CC) US Fish and Wildlife Services

Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Preserve, New Mexico

No lights allowed at the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Preserve! Due to the thousands of snow geese that depart from here on their annual migration at dawn, no lights are allowed since they can throw the birds off course. This promises perfect stargazing conditions, but be careful not to frighten the poor creatures who call this preserve home.

Watch the stars just melt into the ocean

Bar Harbor, Maine

The lack of light pollution and lack of population makes Maine a fantastic place overall to drop your head back and look at the stars. Bar Harbor has taken serious steps to keep the skies of the Acadia National Park as dark as possible with town lighting ordinances. This is a great place to see the stars right beside the ocean. How idyllic!


Taking the twinkle out of the night sky: Breakthrough in adaptive optics

If you are like most people, you probably enjoy the twinkling of stars that blanket the sky on a clear summer night. If you are an astronomer, chances are you find it extremely annoying.

A team of University of Arizona astronomers led by Michael Hart has developed a technique that allows them to switch off the twinkling over a wide field of view, enabling Earth-based telescopes to obtain images as crisp as those taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, and much more quickly.

They describe the technique, called laser adaptive optics, in the Aug. 5 issue of Nature.

Atmospheric turbulence blurs the light from celestial objects by the time it reaches the mirror of a ground-based telescope. Most of the distortion happens less than a half mile above ground, where heat rising from the surface ruffles the air.

Think of laser adaptive optics as noise-canceling headphones, only for light waves instead of sound waves. A bundle of laser beams and a pliable mirror in the telescope optics form the heart of the system.

From their observatory on Mount Hopkins south of Tucson, Ariz., Hart and his group point a bundle of green laser beams into the night sky. Some of the laser light bounces off oxygen and nitrogen molecules high up in the atmosphere, creating five artificial stars spread across the field of view.

"We observe what the turbulence in the atmosphere does to them," explains Hart, a professor of astronomy in UA's Steward Observatory and department of astronomy. "The light that is reflected back tells us what we need to know about the turbulence."

The turbulence data are then fed into a computer that controls the adaptive mirror, whose back side is studded with so-called actuators, small magnetic pins surrounded by coils.

When the computer sends electric currents through the coils, the actuators move, not unlike a loudspeaker translates electric signals from an amplifier into movements of the sound membranes. Hart's adaptive mirror has 336 actuators glued to its back side that cause the mirror to warp just enough to cancel out the flickering caused by the atmosphere. The corrective movements are too tiny for the human eye to see and happen a thousand times each second.

The difference between a telescope with adaptive optics and one without is similar to a camera with a built-in image stabilizer compared to one without.

According to Hart, astronomers and engineers have advanced adaptive optics considerably over the past 15 to 20 years, but until now, the technology was fraught with a fundamental limitation: Atmospheric blurring could only be removed along a very narrow line of sight.

"It's like being able to see sharp through a pin hole, while the rest of your field of view looks like frosted glass," said Hart. "Our technique makes the pin hole much bigger."

The laws of physics impose a trade-off between field of view and resolution. Hart's group sacrifices some of the very high resolution to gain a larger field of view, but for many science endeavors this trade-off is well worth taking, he said.

One such endeavor is the study of very old galaxies that formed around 10 billion years ago when the universe was less than a quarter of its current age. Known to astronomers as high red-shift galaxies, these objects are billions of light years away.

"To understand the evolution of those ancient galaxies, we have to observe thousands of them and study their spectral characteristics and chemical composition," Hart said, "and taking a spectrum of a high red-shift galaxy takes a long time because they are so faint."

"With our new adaptive optics technique, you can now observe dozens at a time. Sampling thousands of galaxies' spectra becomes feasible."

Supermassive star clusters are another example.

"In those clusters, stars are being born as we speak and that's where we have to point our telescopes to learn about the processes that drive star formation."

"There is still a lot that remains mysterious," Hart added, "mostly because these clusters extend over several fields of view and are jam-packed with stars that seem to run into each other unless you can get a super-sharp image."

But before astronomers can even begin to analyze light spectra of the stars in the cluster, they have to disentangle them first.

"You need to know which stars are actually part of the cluster and which ones only happen to be in your line of sight," Hart explains. "To do that, you compare images taken a year or so apart. If you find stars that have moved in the meantime, it means they are not gravitationally bound to the cluster. It is much easier to pinpoint the position of a star if you have an image that is sharp rather than fuzzy."

With the new adaptive optics system, entire star clusters may be examined in a single pointing, the authors write in their article.

Hart's group expects their technique to be applied on very large telescopes such as the Giant Magellan Telescope, which is being developed by astronomers at the University of Arizona and elsewhere.

"We haven't yet tapped out the limit of our adaptive optics system," Hart said. "We can now cancel the atmospheric turbulence over a field of two arc minutes, which is about the diameter of one-fifteenth of a full moon."

At the cosmic distances of deep space, that's a lot of star clusters and a lot of high red-shift galaxies.

Hart's co-authors on the paper are: Mark Milton, Christoph Baranec (now at Caltech Optical Observatories, Pasadena, Calif.), Keith Powell, Thomas Stalcup (Keck Observatory, Hawaii), Don McCarthy, Craig Kulesa and Eduardo Bendek.

The National Science Foundation funded the work.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Arizona. Original written by Daniel Stolte, University Communications. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


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