I can remember as a child, and we are talking some forty five years ago now, being able to step outside the backdoor of our house in the village in Somerset where we lived, to look at the Milky Way and being amazed at the steer enormity of the universe. Whether it was simply just to stand and stare at the night sky or to look at something specific such as a comet, the night sky was dark enough. Light pollution now means that it is rare to see the Milky Way unless you make a special effort to travel into the countryside.
To most of us this simple but important pleasure has been lost as light pollution seeps into rural as well as urban areas.
Only on camping trips to Pembrokeshire and Scotland have I see the night sky with similar clarity, and the vagaries of the British weather mean that such opportunities are rare and often unpredictable.
So does it matter?
I recently took a week break in a cottage in Assynt, actually it was on the Stoer Peninsular and two things struck me. The silence and the beauty of the sky at night (on the rare occasions that the cloud cover lifted to see it)
These are things that we have lost or are losing and I believe it matters to us as human beings.
It is important on a personal note as I am thinking of buying an astronomical telescope and in a wider way as most of us now growing up in locations where the night sky consists of a few stars, the moon, and the glow from the ever present urban conurbations’. We will only get to appreciate the universe and all its wonders second hand, on television or in books.
I believe this will have a profound impact on the way that we see ourselves and therefore influence the way we deal with the issues that face and challenge our species on this planet.
To look up into a clear night sky and see the Milky Way and the universe is to give one a profound insight into our place in the scheme of things. We are a mere ape like mammal that evolved to hunt on the African plains living on a rocky planet orbiting an average sized sun in the out regions of our galaxy. What we do to our planet has little or no consequence for the rest of the universe, it does not know us nor does it acknowledge our existence. The decisions we take matter to us and the other species on the planet, but that is as far as it goes.
It is humbling to lie under a clear night sky and just look at the endless possibilities that stretch away into infinity. Maybe if more people had the chance, we would have a greater understanding of our place in all of this, and the way that we view each other and the rest of the planet would be different.
Anyway now I am off to try and chose a telescope, not as easy as it sounds as the internet means that I now have more information than I can possibly deal with, in a sense choice has been obscured by information pollution.