The loss of dark skies is so painful, astronomers coined a term for it
September 19, 2023 6:44 AM   Subscribe

They threw me out of the astronomers' club when I suggested 'nostargia.'
posted by box at 7:17 AM on September 19 [9 favorites]

"noctalgia." In general, it means "sky grief," and it captures the collective pain we are experiencing as we continue to lose access to the night sky.

This is standing on the precipice but refusing to look down into the true bleakness. How can you be nostalgic for something you've never experienced? For a large and ever-growing portion of humanity there is no collective pain because we're never known a world with dark skies. We don't even know what we've lost.
posted by star gentle uterus at 7:33 AM on September 19 [13 favorites]

Thank you for this.

I strongly, strongly suggest everyone pay a visit to whichever dark sky preserve is closest to you, and to especially take any young people under your care (hopefully on a clear night!)

Seeing a clear night sky with no light pollution is astounding. It's really hard to describe but if you're an urban dweller, the impact is like seeing in color for the first time after a lifetime of black and white vision.
posted by fortitude25 at 7:40 AM on September 19 [33 favorites]

I live near two official Dark Sky preserves, have done for nearly a decade, and I have not once gone out there. The reason tends to be I don't own a car so it makes it tricky (plus I have horrible night vision for driving too), but I need to go, and go often, before Doug Ford figures out that all the land can be used for houses and takes it away.

But I really have wanted to go for so long.
posted by Kitteh at 7:47 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]

This is not a term just for people who've never experienced it. It's primarily a term for people who have.

And while indeed it could be difficult for city dwellers to see the milky way for the past several decades, most anyone with access to car in the US could experience a real dark sky, prior to all the starlink and other bright low-orbit satellites. This was just a few years back.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:58 AM on September 19 [4 favorites]

We regularly plan a camping trip around the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. In previous years I have enjoyed setting my camera up on a tripod and just having it shoot long exposures to try to capture meteors until the clouds roll in (which they invariably do, because we're in Shenandoah National Park and the combination of mountain range and humid air eventually creates its own cloud cover as everything cools). I never know if I've even managed to capture any meteor streaks until we get home, because I have to scan through the photos after I've already done some rudimentary adjustments.

This year there was a big star party right as the meteor shower peaked, and my wife overheard an NPS ranger saying they'd stopped counting the crowd at 2500 people. As we sat on our blanket someone near us excitedly pointed out a satellite streaking across the sky, and we sat there murmuring "he'll stop being excited by that soon." The weather was great and the meteor shower was spectacular. Editing my photos, on the other hand, was incredibly disheartening. Out of a sequence of 200 photos I could identify one (1) streak that was present in only one frame, and thus likely to be a meteor. Everything else that moved was an airplane or satellite. One photo has at least ten streaks that aren't meteors.

I posted a timelapse video showing the apparent movement of the Milky Way and all the crowd activity in front of us at the star party, and it's kind of satisfying in its own right, but I think I learned the days of me taking meteor shower photos have ended. It's no longer worth the setup and editing when there's so much other crap in the sky.
posted by fedward at 8:15 AM on September 19 [8 favorites]

My best experience was at a stargazing party deep in The Lost Pines...
posted by jim in austin at 8:16 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]

OTOH having lights at night is fucking great. I can read a folio or do my weaving at home whenever I want, not just have to huddle down under covers for 14 hours a day during winter. I can walk around the city at night and see where I'm going, feel safe from ruffians and miscreants. I absolutely would not want to go back to a time with whale oil lanterns. Related: The amount of work that once bought an hour of light now buys 51 years of it.

What would be great is to have the best of both worlds. Particularly with more light-pollution-efficient outdoor lighting. It's a shame we're transitioning to cheaper LED lighting and yet not building fixtures that cast the light down where it's needed.

I've been fortunate to live twice in smaller towns that are pretty dark. Not true dark sky but dark enough you can see the Milky Way, the Pleiades, I've convinced myself I've even seen the Andromeda Galaxy as a smudge without optics. It's really lovely.
posted by Nelson at 8:25 AM on September 19 [4 favorites]

Every clear night up at our cottage we go down to the dock, lie down, and look at the sky. I've been doing this for almost 50 years and my dad for 70. Our cabin is pretty isolated -- boat access only, no neighbours, no electricity. However, the advent of cheap LED lighting has definitely spoilt the night sky. Many of the cottages and houses on mainland north of us, which is not visible from our cottage because of large islands in the way, have installed LED architectural lighting, dock lighting, and landscape lighting which run every night whether or not anyone is home. As a result, even when we go up late in the fall and are pretty well the only people up there the viewing is spoilt. We can still see the Milky Way and a sky full of stars, but it isn't as clear and crisp as it used to be and the northern horizon is washed out.

The endless stream of satellites is also very apparent now. It makes watching for shooting stars a lot more difficult.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:28 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]

...the apparent movement of the Milky Way...
Why are the satellites showing up as wavy lines?
posted by MtDewd at 8:30 AM on September 19

I get it, especially for urban astronomers who just want to be able to go out in their back yards with an inexpensive reflector telescope and actually see some stuff, but the caption "Light pollution is worsening globally, erasing many stars from the night sky" reminds me of "The Nine Billion Names of God."
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:32 AM on September 19 [4 favorites]

fedward, I see what you're saying but thank you for sharing the timelapse, I did see a few meteors in there!
posted by amanda at 8:38 AM on September 19

Humanity is slowly losing access to the night sky, and astronomers have invented a new term to describe the pain associated with this loss: "noctalgia," meaning "sky grief."
Ah, from the Latin "nox" or "noct-" ("night") and the Greek ἄλγησις (álgēsis, “sense of pain”).

The etymology is dubious, but I guess "night pain" sounds like something your grandmother takes those two red pills for when she goes to bed.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:52 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]

I've been nuts about astronomy and stargazing since I was a kid. My teenage daughter has a week off school next month, and there will be no moon, so I'm dragging her to the Okefenokee Swamp, basically the darkest place east of the Mississippi, to go stargazing. She's like OMG Dad whhhyyyy and I know that when we get there and she sees actual dark skies she will* change her tune.

* Once we discount for the natural tendency of the jaded 15yo to downplay anything her dad likes.
posted by outgrown_hobnail at 9:01 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]

"DarkSky International restores the nighttime environment and protects communities from the harmful effects of light pollution through outreach, advocacy, and conservation."

This weekend I'll be in Nevada's Black Rock Desert which is an extremely dark site although I'll be camping with a few hundred other people so I'm sure there will be some light and noise. First quarter moon on Friday. I might bring my 8" SCT if I have room but it's going to be relatively cold.
posted by neuron at 9:17 AM on September 19

When I was in high school, my family spend a week camping on Umbagog Lake on the border of New Hampshire and Maine. I though I knew pretty night sky after all our other camping trips, but nothing in CT and MA is dark enough. Every year I toy with the idea of joining my dad and uncle on their annual canoe trip on the Allagash River in Maine but I always think that things are just a bit too busy to leave for a week. But a perfectly dark night sky is a good argument in the yes column.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:21 AM on September 19

Fun fact: there's really only 5000 stars. At least, that's how many are visible to an unaided eye. Less really, since at best you can see a little over half the stars without travelling a long way. Before the 17th century that was the total count of all knowable stars. In modern times we know more of course, and "all the stars in the sky" is a poetic way we talk about uncountable things. (Even though there's only about 100 billion in our galaxy.)

I'm curious if in the time there were only 5000 stars even that small number still seemed like infinity. It's not in Shakespeare: for him stars are metaphors of guidance and fortune telling. In many cultures the most visible stars were supernatural people, particularly the wandering ones.

When I look at the Milky Way all I see is a smear of billions of stars sharing their light, an edge-on view of our galaxy. But historically it was generally a single object. A river is very common (whether milk, silver, or other). Or a cloud of underwater silt, a canoe, a small collection of animals. Wikipedia's scan on Khoisan culture has it as embers from a fire; that's closer to our modern understanding of a very large number of little lights.
posted by Nelson at 9:40 AM on September 19 [5 favorites]

Photo and timelapse details: they were all 20 second long exposures and the camera requires a minimum 1 second pause between exposures. I was using an Olympus OM-D E-M1 with an M.Zuiko 12mm ƒ/2.0 lens shooting wide open. It turns out the camera doesn't start counting that 1 second pause until after it finishes processing the previous frame, so the gap between photos is generally 2.something seconds but not entirely consistent. Once home I did a batch edit for dark-frame subtraction and then a second pass to adjust black levels and raise the midpoint. After that my process is literally just to tap the arrow keys on the keyboard and look for movement between frames. If I think I see something I'll toggle back and forth between two frames (there's a name for this technique but it escapes me at the moment). What I found this year is that almost everything that makes a streak in one frame is present in the next frame (and is almost always visible in more than two frames), which means that it's an object that was in the sky for multiple 20 second exposures. Since meteor streaks are basically instantaneous, that process allows me to rule out any object that's present in multiple frames. The timelapse displays at 24 frames per second.

At one point in the timelapse there's a VERY bright streak that swoops around the lower portion of the sky: that was an airplane that came straight at the camera for a bit before turning to the left as seen from the camera's perspective. There was another small plane that similarly had a wobbly flight path, so my guess is that the wavy lines you're seeing, MtDewd, are actually those planes and not satellites. I did find one thing I'm relatively certain is a meteor and there were a few faint marks in other frames that didn't seem worth editing for, but basically anything that makes a mark that's visible in the timelapse when viewed at normal speed is not a meteor.
posted by fedward at 9:44 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]

My best ever night sky viewing was spent lying flat on my back in the middle of the Mojave. Then a friend suggested I try looking up with night vision goggles. There were more stars than blackness.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:45 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]

I grew up in rural central Florida. We were 13 miles from the closest gas station, and while that definitely had its drawbacks, the skies at night were fabulous.

Some of my favorite memories of that place were of me laying on a blanket on the tailgate of Dad's pickup. Overhead, the dark sky filled with stars bright and dim and everything in between. As if that wasn't beautiful enough, a slight turn of the head let me see the forest around me, with hundreds of fireflies blinking in and out of vision. I'm told that one night I announced to my family that the fireflies were practicing their twinkle for when they would fly up and join the rest of the stars in the sky. I got roundly mocked, of course. But the visual memory makes clear how my child self came to that conclusion.
posted by Vigilant at 9:49 AM on September 19 [4 favorites]

My wife and I stayed at a Hotel in a Scottish “dark skies preserve” recently. That was not our primary reason to visit, but the night was clear and so, slightly sheepishly, we drove out to a campground that had been suggested as an observation point in the brochure. I remember looking up and thinking “hmm, not so special” and then having that dissolve, over ten minutes or so, into “fucking hell!”

I grew up in the countryside but had not really appreciated the difference between being, say 10 miles and 50 miles or more, from the nearest town. So, I think for many people, it is not so much a question of nostalgia as having never had the original experience.
posted by rongorongo at 9:55 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]

We try to take advantage of night sky programs whenever we visit national parks. I think I saw the galactic center most clearly at Capitol Reef but the sky wasn't anywhere near as clear on the opposite horizon so you didn't get the whole arc of the Milky Way. On a different trip when we took our nieces to the Grand Canyon you could trace the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. That moment is also more special because we got to share it with them.
posted by fedward at 9:59 AM on September 19

I have long been a city girl but I camped once at Pyramid Lake (Northern Nevada) on the dark of the moon and you could not see the sky for the stars. they were clotted masses stretching across the sky. it was amazing. (Northern Nevada is a pretty good place to escape light pollution, if you can get yourself there)
posted by supermedusa at 10:00 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]

Last night as I was riding home through some power fields at around 11 pm I saw a shadow in the field a bit off the path. As I got closer I could make out a camera on a tripod and could then even see the light coming off its screen. I'm guessing the person was hoping to catch the Northern Lights as I got an alert that they may be visible but it could have been anything. I barely even bother looking up at the night sky on a daily basis because I'll never see anything interesting, just the brightest stars that are able to get through Toronto's light pollution, but if I'm going camping then I'll stay up to stargaze for a while. During the Perseids I'll usually drag my family an hour's drive north-east of the city to try to see some shooting stars. I remember one Labour Day weekend some friends and I all took our oldest kids camping out near the Lennox-Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area and we were able to see the Milky Way and a couple of shooting stars.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:25 PM on September 19

I feel like the issue is a serious one and something I hope we can address. Not just for our own sake, but for migrating birds, nesting sea turtles, and black-capped petrels that fly in at night from their foraging at sea to their nests in inland mountains. The term noctalgia, though at first blush seems clever, is kind of a weird latin/greek mishmosh that doesn't actually make a lot of sense, especially if positioned as "sky grief." I know that language is what we make it, but if there's a serious issue, maybe having Nigel from Spinal Tap come up with a name for it isn't the best way for it to be taken seriously. Or perhaps I'm wrong, and it is.
posted by snofoam at 12:27 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]

You used to be able to see the Milky Way pretty clearly here. Then somebody built a parking lot or some shit nearby that spoiled the eastern sky. Now it's not quite dark enough anymore. Not that I'm bitter.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:41 PM on September 19

I live in a dark sky suburb with enough elevation and shielding from the nearest city (Salt Lake) that we certainly get okay-ish dark skies many nights and I've seen way more meteors and satellites and other cool stuff here then I ever did when I was living in the Bay Area. it does sadden me how many kids grow up never seeing much of the night sky. We did a night hike to Delicate Arch down in Southern Utah last year and wow the night sky was amazing.

Also, I am one of the squarest squares who ever squared...but I still think this is a life goal. (AskMeFi comment that I've linked to from the blue several times)
posted by inflatablekiwi at 12:50 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]

Though I realize this is a bit off-topic.. since people reading this are presumably primed to be thinking in terms of the night sky I thought I'd mention it here.

A few days ago there was a coronal mass ejection from the sun that arrived last night (depending on what part of the world you're in, I suppose..) causing higher-than-average auroras. I'm not sure whether the effect is completely over but if not, it still might be worth checking out the night sky tonight, if you have an area with good viewing, as it's new moon phase and the aurora may be visible further south than normal. (You'd still need to be pretty far north, but check your favorite space weather site for a forecast for tonight and see whether it's worth taking a shot.)

(Alas, unfortunately for me, our equinoctial storms have blown in off the Gulf of Alaska and I won't be seeing anything in the heavens for the foreseeable future.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:35 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]

I do like a dark starry night!! I agree that light pollution is a very real and big problem for many reasons. However, one thing often missing from these discussions is how better lighting helps make things safer. I know as a woman, as empowered as I am, I do not feel safe in dimly-lit cities. I know that lights can be retrofitted to keep light aimed down and what not but very few places seem to care -- or be able to afford -- to add this technology, however minimal.
posted by smorgasbord at 1:52 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]

The darkest sky I have seen of late was twenty odd years ago at the dark end of a back road just outside Ellensburg. We could see millions of stars, the Milky Way across the top of the sky as satellite after satellite drifted past overhead. So much of that sky was moving. It was a very striking sight.
posted by y2karl at 2:08 PM on September 19

Yeah outdoor lighting is great. I ride my bike to work and my ride home is usually at night. I ride on city streets and my lights are solely used there for being visible to cars so that they might not run into me and pedestrians so they don't cross the street in front of me. For the last couple of weeks I've been taking some trails for the final stretch and going from the lit street to a trail going through the trees is like night and day - I can really only see the small area that my light illuminates and the rest is darkness. I could probably see more around me if I did away with the light and used my night vision but I wouldn't see as much of the path and that's what I need to focus on. I happened upon some deer last night but I only saw them because the path was bending so my light shone on them otherwise I wouldn't have noticed them at all.

But there are things we can do so that we enjoy the benefits of lighting or satellites while reducing their effects on our ability to see the sky. Even some bike lights have cut-off beams so that the light goes where it needs to.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:09 PM on September 19

If you can find a dark cloudless sky, try this: Lie on your back and look at the stars as a 3D grid. Generally brighter stars are closer, dimmer ones farther away. (There are many exceptions but it doesn't matter.) Fix your mental frame of reference to that 3D grid. Pretty soon you will actually feel the earth rotating you.
posted by hypnogogue at 2:38 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]

The Siding Springs Observatory near the Warrumbungle National Park in NSW is a big deal as far as world observatories go. It's in a magnificent part of Australia - within the Warrumbungles and adjacent to the largest inland dry sclerophyll forest in the world (A Million Wild Acres).

Flares from 800 coal seam gas mine installations in the next decade in that dry inland forest will kill the Observatory's utility and put an end to the 'dark sky park' feature of the Warrumbungles. Each of the 800 flares will be as bright as a small town. There will be no dark nights for hundreds of kilometers.

I feel something very close to hate toward the politicians on the left who are encouraging this massive expansion of coal seam gas mining all over the country, destroying important scientific and well-being opportunities as they go, not to fucking mention the carbon emissions and deliberately unmeasured methane leaks. WTF.

Turn off the lights. It's time for revolution.
posted by Thella at 2:40 PM on September 19

I've seen the night sky from a small boat in the middle of the ocean. I've seen it from a hot tub deep in the Gila wilderness. I've seen it from my backyard in suburban Long Island and I see it regularly from the roof of my house in Philadelphia. It is indeed a wonder to witness all of the stars unperturbed by light pollution, but I enjoy being around people and civilization far more than I enjoy a perfectly dark sky.

There are plenty of stars I can still see, even here in the urban core. More than I can name, anyhow.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:25 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]

The University of California operates Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton above San Jose. The site offers a great view of the stars.

I've been fortunate enough to attend one of the summer telescope viewing sessions. I sat in the pitch-black parking lot for several hours taking in the stars. There are also separate events for astronomical photographers.
posted by JDC8 at 4:13 PM on September 19

Winter at my parents cabin. The lake solidly frozen. I loved walking out in the night. Being suited up it felt like being on the moon. The stars were awesome.
posted by Goofyy at 4:18 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]

High altitude dry dark sky is the best. Hiking in the high Sierra or out deep in the Rockies. Less horizon though.
posted by nat at 4:35 PM on September 19

Open ocean/sea is still pretty good if you are on a boat where you can turn the lights off.
posted by snofoam at 6:03 PM on September 19

Noctalgia? Come on, stardade was right there. Where my Portuguese at?
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:53 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]

I live in southern Arizona, so even in the city our night skies aren't bad, and it's not a very long drive at all to get some amazing night skies. Our city has dark sky ordinances due to the Kitt Peak National Observatory west of town. While the sheer number of lights is overpowering things now, it still is nowhere near as bad as Phoenix. You can see the Phoenix light pollution from 80 miles away. I feel spoiled to have such easy access to great night skies. The best sky I've ever seen was up on Mt. Graham, a couple of hours east and well away from and cities. The camp I used to go to was at 9300 feet, sheltered on all sides by mountains from any stray light. I guess the best word to use for the nighttime sky up there is "gobsmacked."

I remember the first time I camped at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the amount of stars I could see even through the tent wall was just crazy. I'm going back there soon, and I checked the calendar to see what the skies would be like... well, how about that, we're getting a full moon. So I don't know how many stars I'll see, but seeing the canyon lit up by the moonlight should be outstanding.
posted by azpenguin at 9:30 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]

I'm so happy that my son appreciates the stars, looks for dark skies, appreciates clouds and sunsets.

Visited ancient 1980s Greece, stayed in Agia Roumeli, at the foot of the Samarian Gorge. The tiny town was powered by a generator and at 11 or so, it was powered down, silencing the loud disco music and extinguishing all lights. I have never seen a sky as black as velvet, glittering with stars seeming so close.

When I lived in a bigger town, city lights washed out the full moon. When it's really dark, the moon is stunning. Sad that so many people are denied the beauty of the night sky.
posted by theora55 at 10:37 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]

I really need to stress to the people who are keen on celebrating lights at night that huge amounts of light radiating upwards is not the same as your footpath lights radiating down.

It's the difference between a naked bulb in a lamp and one with a decent shade. You don't need all the upward illumination. There's a lot of work being done into efficient street lighting and public light and you'd be surprised how much just goes up, away from you, into the darkness, when the fixture is poorly designed. That's what a lot of this is, and there's an environmental cost in terms of energy use and problems caused to nocturnal animals - especially migratory ones - as well as the light pollution itself.

Lights in houses and on footpaths are not the problem. It's lit billboards and office skyscrapers fully lit all night, it's 'security' lighting that is permanently on, rather than attached to a motion detector, it's full spectrum high powered halogens where a narrower band LED would do. It's floodlit golfcourses and cars with deer spots driving in city streets with their highbeams on.

Like 'pollution' means something here. It's like celebrating your kitchen stash of olive oil in a post about crude spilled in to the sea. It's often not the same thing at all.

The last time I saw the sky was in during a camp to the mountains outside Brisbane in 2019. Unbelievably clear, and I could see all the way to the coastline and the smear of light on the beaches at one am, the tourists strip lit up all night long.
posted by Jilder at 10:48 PM on September 19 [9 favorites]

A couple weeks ago we were out of the city, in the countryside. The night sky there is very good, especially when it's dry enough that the nearest bright lights don't reach us.

Over the 55+ years I've been looking at he night skies the biggest change has been the traffic. Which was something I noticed last weekend - there's one particular set of satellites that provide internet, they show up as a sort of dotted line in the sky. They are so artificial that it is hard to see them and not think about how technical they are - they made me think for a moment of the end of The Three Body Problem where the 'sophons' (aliens, kinda basically) show up and start screwing with peoples' visual perception of the world. It was really disorienting, far more so than the sky itself.

Satellites are like a loud fart in a movie theater.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:24 AM on September 20

This is not quite on topic but thought I'd drop it.

Approaches to lowering the cost of large space telescopes

posted by sammyo at 2:32 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

Might have posted this before but just wanted to share my dark sky experience... I lucked out and got this shot of the Milky Way - the two brightest stars near the bottom between the two tents are Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, and that bright star 2/3rds of the way to the top right is Alpha Scorpii, the centerpiece of the Scorpius constellation. Around 13,000 feet elevation in the center of Africa while climbing Kilimanjaro and left a torch in my tent... not entirely fully free of light pollution, that warm glow is from a town just below the horizon. I manually adjusted the temps to get the balance between the blue and red stars and pushed the exposure a bit more (it was only a 15 seconds exposure).

The shocking thing is I shot it with a $300 compact camera I bought in 2013, the DMC-LX7. Of course I have no doubt you could probably shoot something similar today with a mobile phone...

I've been in some other areas with dark skies and had better equipment with me (a DSLR) but at lower elevations the atmosphere is thicker so it seems the images don't turn out so good.
posted by xdvesper at 3:54 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]

Ah, from the Latin "nox" or "noct-" ("night") and the Greek ἄλγησις (álgēsis, “sense of pain”).

Personally I'm against polyamory. It should be either multiamory or polyphilia.

Mixing languages is a real faux pas.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 5:21 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

This is something i miss from living in Vermont, the ability to take in night skies without nearby artificial lights blazing away.
posted by doctornemo at 6:39 AM on September 20

Related: solastalgia, the pain of losing one's childhood environment due to climate change.
posted by doctornemo at 6:39 AM on September 20

My granddaughter seems to have a budding curiosity about the planets, stars, etc. It's so frustrating, though, trying to explain to her what the night sky really looks like. The idea of actually being able to see the Milky Way just seems to bounce off her.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:58 AM on September 20

I grew up in the last property along a partially paved road at the bottom of a gorge abutting a forest preserve. The neighboring city would kindly put a bulb in the streetlight about once every 4 months. I learned to shoot straight from my dad sending me out with a rifle to make that light pollution go away after the road crew left.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:02 PM on September 20 [3 favorites]

When I was 18, I attended a youth conference in rural Texas, where it was so dark at night that you could see the reflection of the curve of the Milky Way in the lake. I'm 48 now and I still think about that night, sitting on the dock with the millions of stars above me, at least once a month. I'm a city kid and although I love all the city things, they come at the expense of feeling really connected to the natural world and that is a tragedy. (I mean, there were also a hell of a lot of scorpions; being connected to the natural world is a blessing and a curse, but oh, the stars. The stars!)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:54 AM on September 21

...there's one particular set of satellites that provide internet, they show up as a sort of dotted line in the sky.

Those are Starlink satellites.
posted by y2karl at 10:21 AM on September 21

FWIW those Starlink chains are only visible for a week or two after launch; they disperse and also become less bright as they orient. Then again they're launching new ones every week. And they are still visible in orbit and there are 3400 of them, or about half the total satellites in orbit now. And their plan is for 12,000. It's a real problem for astronomy. SpaceX is trying to make their satellites less visible, I think in good faith, but it's a contentious active debate. And no matter how dark they are they'll be occulting the sky behind them.

I do appreciate the utility of those satellites. I'm posting to you via Starlink right now. Just like street lights they are useful but I hope we can find ways to mitigate their impact.
posted by Nelson at 10:44 AM on September 21

One of the problems is it won't be just starlink going forward. Accusations against Musk, true or not, of interfering with Ukraine operations against invading Russia have shown in spades both the utility of satellite internet and the immense danger to any state in not controlling same. Just like the proliferation of alternatives to GPS expect many countries with the ability to launch their own systems.

Also I fully expect some asshole, could even be Musk, to launch set of intentionally visible satellites sometime in the next 50 years to create advertising displays like those drone advertisements.
posted by Mitheral at 7:49 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

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