The Celestial Wonders of the Night Sky

This week is International Dark Sky Week, designated by the International Dark Sky Association. It is a time to celebrate the wonders of the Night Sky along with raising awareness of light pollution and the importance of protecting our views of the night for generations to come.

As light pollution continues to increase year over year, it is essential that we recognize the importance of the night sky and protect the ability to see it. As a night photographer, I have a passion for the night sky and feel it is important to continue to promote and educate around dark sky awareness. However the night sky is not essential just for viewing purposes, darkness plays an essential role in ecosystems and human development. Dark Sky is an important and essential part of life that must be protected. 

To celebrate International Dark Sky Week and to help raise awareness, I have decided to feature some of my favourite Celestial Wonders of the Night Sky.

Celestial Wonder of the Night Sky : Aurora

This is obviously my personal favourite Wonder of the Night Sky. The Northern Lights.

The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in the North and the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) in the south are some of the most magnificent displays of light caused in nature. Created by the reaction between the sun’s energy being released and colliding with Earth’s magnetic field. The charged particles are pulled toward the north and south poles and emit light. The colour of the display depends on the reaction between different elements, causing a highly unpredictable display of light in shades of green, purple, blue and red.

Aurora is known to be elusive, hard to predict, impossible to plan in advance for and highly sought after. The experience of looking up while the sky fills full of moving and changing light is completely indescribable. A sensation takes over of pure wonder, excitement and joy as the Aurora captivates with its cosmic beauty. The ability to see the Aurora depends on the strength of the show, having fairly good views of the northern horizon, and of course being located near or under the Aurora oval. As light pollution increases the views of the night decrease. Since there are already very limited areas in the world that the Aurora is visible, it makes protecting the night sky in these areas of utmost importance.

Aurora Borealis in the Boreal Forest in Saskatchewan, Canada

Aurora is the product of intricate reactions in nature that produce out of this world beauty in the night sky. Our ability to see it is determined mostly by geographic location and solar activity, however having access to dark sky is also essential. 

Celestial Wonder of the Night Sky : The Milky Way

The next fascinating Wonder of the Night Sky is the Milky Way.

The Milky Way is Earth’s view of our galaxy. It is a dense region of stars and galactic gases that produce a distinct and visible band of stars in the night sky. There are specific areas of the Milky Way, such as the core, that are known to be the most photogenic but is not visible all year long in the northern areas. For me, the milky way core begins to rise above the southern horizon in March just before dawn. Gradually rising earlier in the night until summer when it falls below the horizon again.

However even though the photogenic core of the Milky Way is not always visible, portions of it are when you have dark sky. Unlike the Aurora, the Milky Way is essentially visible from anywhere on earth, there is no need to travel north. Depending on where on earth you are, the view of the Milky Way will change, but it will always be there in some capacity. No matter what time of year, when you are far away from light pollution and look up to the stars, there will always be a region that appears more dense than the rest. That is the Milky Way. That is our galaxy and our view. As you can imagine, the view only gets better the clearer and darker the night is. 

For the best viewing you want to be in the darkest area you can, with no moonlight or light pollution to block your view. Due to the constant increase of light pollution, finding the best viewing locations are getting harder for some. In rural and remote areas the views are a lot better than anywhere near an urban centre. This is why in high density urban areas, there may only be a few visible stars. Not that the Milky Way isn’t there, it’s the light pollution blocking the view of the night sky that is the problem. This makes light pollution awareness and dark sky preservation important for stargazing.

Celestial Wonder of the Night Sky : The Moon 

It may seem to obvious but another true Wonder of the Night Sky is the Moon.

The Moon may not be as affected by light pollution as the view of the Milky Way or the Aurora because it is the brightest object in our night sky and is visible throughout its phases anywhere on earth. On a consistent basis we can all see the moon rise and set, and light the way in the night. Even though the ability to see the moon isn’t currently under threat like other aspects of the night, it is still an important wonder of the Night Sky. The moon was the world’s first step into space, and will always be the most recognizable object in the night. 

The Moon appears in phases because of the shadow of the earth projected by the sun. The phases do change slightly each night as it moves through its regular rotation, perfectly predictable, and always consistent. The brightness of the moon has an impact on stargazing and night photography for various reasons. When the moon is near full it can be so bright that most of the starlight is faded by its intensity and when the moon is small or not visible at night, it can assist in creating a wonderful view of the cosmos. For photographers sake the moon can provide enough light to enhance a foreground or great depth in the shadows. The ability to plan for the moon phases and times is useful for viewing and capturing the beauty of the night. 

Celestial Wonders of the Night Sky : Constellations, Planets and Deep Space

This takes me to the final collection of the Wonders of the Night Sky made up of the various Constellations, Planets & Deep Space objects viewable from earth.

There is so much to the Night Sky, as a civilization we only understand a small fraction of Space.  Astronomy, is the scientific field of studying the night sky, it is an interesting and important field of study. The constellations of stars, other planets in our solar system and the deep and endless unknowns of deep space create an interesting mix to be studied and viewed. The views at night through a telescope, camera or by the naked eye can illicit feelings of imagination, curiosity and wonder. The identifiable and unknown all mixed into a cosmic backdrop to be enjoyed.

The clarity of deep space or the prominence of planets or constellations in our night is highly determined by the ability to have access to dark sky with little to no light pollution to obstruct the view. As is the important and ongoing scientific research of Astronomers. The light seen from space is constantly being studied and analyzed as new things are discovered and understood. This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope that has provided views deeper into space than ever before. This is constantly evolving field of study and makes the protection of the night sky essential for continued research and scientific discovery.

Not only is protecting our night sky important for the continued scientific advancements of Astronomers, it is also particularly important for society as a whole. The ability to stargaze and look up into a dark clear sky should not be a privilege to the few, instead it should be a priority for most as we are threat of increased light pollution and decreased access to true dark undeveloped areas of the world. As the threat of light pollution is more understood, we continue to see huge steps toward Dark Sky Preservation and an increasing interest in the night sky and all the celestial wonders it holds. 

Its International Dark Sky Week from April 19 – 26, 2020. Take this time to #lookuptogether and celebrate #IDSW2020 by admiring the beauty of the night and think of ways you can help reduce light pollution.

Keep our skies dark and together we can keep looking up!

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