How many stars can you see at night? When was the last time you looked up at night?

Depending on where you live in the world, (and the cloud cover at the time), you may see lots and lots, or you may see very few. (All photos courtesy of Unsplash unless otherwise stated).

Anne recently showed us a short video clip of the night sky in outback Australia where the stars at night are amazing: click here.

But I live in Melbourne, a city of about 5 million people and I see very few stars. It’s become a little game with me, when I take my dog out for her last little pitstop before bed, to count the stars while I stand looking up on the back porch. If I can count twenty in my little patch of the sky (about 120 degrees angle), I think I am doing well!

When we were children, my father would point out the Southern Cross, and The Saucepan, and a few others, and I do still look for these amongst the few that I can see.

So why do we see so few stars in some places, particularly in cities?

An article in June 2020, published in Science Matters,1 explains that, of course, they’re still there, but we can’t see them because of light pollution: the excessive and misdirected anthropogenic and artificial light that has invaded our night skies.

80% of the world’s population lives in dense cities.1 This photo taken from space by NASA shows the density of urban lighting:

So as light spills from our urban streets into the surrounding countryside, it pushes astronomical observatories that depend on pristine, unpolluted skies further into the interior of the country.1

But in many other places in the world, it is almost impossible to count the number of stars you see in the night sky:

And sometimes, the cosmic forces come together uniquely to create a palette of incredible colours and patterns:

And of course, the beauty of the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis, which Anne has featured in a previous post, are yet another incredible phenomenon for those lucky enough to see it ....click here.

The great scientist and icon of academia, Stephen Hawking, once said “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.2

Luckily for those of us living in cities, many people are curious, and do bother to look up, and photograph the beauty and majesty that they see.

So, until I can take a trip in the remote parts of Australia to do some star gazing, I will be content to look at the beautiful photographs of others. If you have any photos of the night sky you would like to share, please send them in, we would love to see them!

Footnotes

  1. Article 19th June 2020 in Science Matters by Associate Professor Therésa Jones and Dr Jen Martin, University of Melbourne and Marnie Ogg, Australasian Dark Sky Alliance.

  2. Article of the best quotes by Stephen Hawking, courtesy of theguardian.com.