Preserving Dark Skies
From Van Gogh’s Starry Night to Goya’s El Tres de Mayo, artists have always embraced the darkness and sought night’s allure. While the rest of the world is tucked under their blankets or lying with a lover, some of us are night owls, using those small, silent hours to create while the rest slumber. Late night hours are often touted as the refuge of recluses, of the drugged artists, the struggling poets, the backyard musician and the procrastinating university student. What is it about the night time that inspires and motivates so many of us, and encourages as much as 20% of us to disturb our diurnal rhythms in favour of 3am pursuits?
I think part of it is the peace and quiet, the vulnerability, and the stargazer in us all.
And this is why it’s so important to preserve those dark skies, those rural corners of our countries where the light pollution doesn’t reach, and we can appreciate the majesty that is the Milky Way wheeling overhead. If you haven’t seen it, you’re truly missing out. Find a piece of dark enough sky and you’ll see more stars than you ever imagined, and more detail than you ever thought possible. Poets, artists, opiate-indulgers and insomniacs often have a window into the world that the rest of us don’t. Something cerebral happens at night, when all but the toughest of us have long since surrendered with the sun. Night skies are breathtaking, yet cities are equally stunning at night. The flicker of lights like bees across the Danube, Valletta reflecting like snowflakes on a marble. Yet venture away from the city lights and night takes on a whole new meaning.
Time seems to slow, to almost stop, to stretch on as endless and mysterious as the Event Horizon. At night, nothing is everything.
The world is becoming more and more crowded, and it’s getting brighter too. As the reach of our cities stretches ever further, are we becoming more distant from our past? And what of our future, if the sky is too obscured for us to see it? Will we still desire to explore new worlds and uncover the secrets of the stars if they’re veiled from view?
And as much as I embrace the daylight and its colours, I realise just how much we need the darkness. From stepping into the black mists of the Patagonian night sky, to simply gazing up at Orion from my rooftop. I can be a stargazer, without a telescope, but not without dark skies. There are just a few special corners in Malta dark enough to stargaze properly. At Dingli Cliffs on the rugged southern edge of the island, the sky is just about as dark as it gets. Filfla, the stump of rock just off the mainland, disappears from view and the stars just about come out to play. There are also some stunning sights at Bahrija, Dwejra in Gozo and Mellieha, to name a few. I’ve been lucky enough to observe the red stripes of Jupiter’s clouds, however faint, and witnessed the fastest shooting star whilst freezing to death in the middle of Maltese summer. So it doesn’t matter if you’re in the heart of London or the middle of an overcrowded country. There are dark spots, you just have to bother to find them. And the results will amaze you.
Don’t forget to join Earth Hour on Saturday March 30th at 8:30pm. I’ll be turning off my lights and joining millions around the world, in order to enjoy the night sky and to ponder on the future of our planet. Further Reading: Fears That Malta’s Best Site For Astronomical Observations May Be Ruined