Night Light

Eons ago when our early ancestors lived by the light of fire rather than electricity, the night sky’s star-studded glow had nothing to compete with. A luminous canopy a million miles away could be seen from anywhere in the world and its stars, asteroids and constellations instilled comfort and a sense of wonder — all you had to do was look up. Today, the cumulative glow of cities compromise the sky’s natural night-light, reducing the awe-inspiring visible cosmos to a ceiling of failing light bulbs. It’s easy to lose perspective when you literally cannot see the big picture, but the night sky still reveals plenty to those who are willing to travel for the show.

For some, a nocturnal visit to the pitch-black desert is the most thrilling adventure. With a yearning for the translucent skies of yesteryear, modern-day astronomers, astrologers and stargazing enthusiasts find themselves in isolated desert plains — where the stardust above is as abundant as the sand below. After the sun sinks beneath the outstretched horizon, the temperature and colors cool to a purplish-blue with no manufactured hues to disrupt the darkening gradient. Out there, the surrounds are empty and quiet, save for a few hardy plants and the powdery silhouette of the rocky canyons. Once your eyes adjust to the enveloping nightfall, orbs of light blink into view. Gradually the sky seems to expand forever, revealing the stars between the stars. Familiar constellations become your accomplice to a show that will last until dawn.

While immersed in the speckled abyss, it’s impossible not to contemplate your scale and place in it all.

With remote plains as an auditorium, any observer can marvel at far-away celestial mysteries. Whether the lens is the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope, looking into the darkest skies invites the viewer on a cosmic trip through time and space. Light from the distant phenomena up there must travel through space and this, in turn, takes time. Looking up at the moon is to see it one second ago. As for the stars, their glow can be many years old. The clear night sky becomes a theatre for the past — its glistening attractions carrying the galactic gazer back in time.

While immersed in the speckled abyss, it’s impossible not to contemplate your scale and place in it all. The stresses of daily life seem trivial when compared to the mind-boggling events above, where shooting-stars beam themselves to and fro, meteor showers throw rare fireworks displays and the milky way paints its luminous brush stoke across space.

Not lost or forgotten, the age-old pastime of stargazing still provides a tangible connection with nature and a breathtaking visual feast for the knowing audience. In the morning, the sun’s yellow curtain will cloak the horizon to close out the night’s light show. Although out of sight for a while, the comforting canopy can always be seen again on the dark stage of the desert sky. Just remember to look up.

Written by Amy Woodroffe
Photographed by Nick Pacione

The Journal is published bi-annually and complimentary copies are available at Herschel Supply stockists worldwide. Enjoy the digital edition of Issue 4 (Spring/Summer 2015) in its entirety by visiting the archive.

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