ByANDY and DAVID FLEMING
It is one of life’s subtle ironies that thanks to our industry and high technology that in some ways brings so many benefits to our everyday lives, one of the greatest of all natural wonders, has been lost to the majority of our planet’s human population. We’re talking, of course about a velvet-black night sky dotted with countless stars, nebulae, and galaxies. It's the key to sharing the P,B and J (the Passion, Beauty and Joy) that typifies the emotions felt when identifying our place in space and time (thanks to Bill Nye the Science and Planetary Guy for inventing this apt phrase).
Truth be told, it is not our technology that denies us this most beautiful of natural spectacles, but our shameful and profligate waste of our natural resources and energy. Namely, of course, it is light pollution, coupled with industrial pollutants, vehicle emissions and particulates.
It is a severe problem here in the River Tees Valley in north east England where I'm based. The industry at Teesmouth illuminates our horizons with the glare of a thousand artificial sodium vapour suns. If you’re lucky, and located in a dark, secluded corner of this conurbation of one million inhabitants, you can just about succeed with the “Ursa Minor test” and pick out all of the stars in that constellation down to Magnitude 5 with the naked eye (albeit with averted vision). We won’t be unduly negative about our abode however – there are still wonders aplenty to be seen from our back garden including double stars, the planets, galaxies and planetary nebulae and of course the stunning and lovely Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion.
But they are washed out, shadows of themselves even through a telescope, reminiscent of a television set with the contrast dramatically reduced. They are awe-inspiring, but we have doubtless been robbed of much of the awe. An initial tour of the gorgeous black skies of a location such as the North Yorkshire Moors National Park therefore creates a soaring sense of wonder and awe – an uplifting surge of sheer excitement that will never be forgotten. Of course, an enjoyable tour of anything requires a good and learned tour guide with a well-planned itinerary, and in this respect we were lucky enough to share this memorable late October evening with one of local astronomy group's most astronomically literate members, Rob.