01 January 2009

Happy New Year!

We forget that for most of human history the nights were dark. People used the light of the moon to work or travel. They stayed where they were otherwise, hunkered down against the all-encompassing darkness. The movement of the sun, stars, and planets, the phases of the moon, these were items of common knowledge, necessary for survival. In our fast-paced, well-lit 21st-century, the ancient rhythms are reduced to mere curiosities, and knowledge of the heavens is confined to scientists and fortune-tellers. Half the people on the planet now live in cities, which means they have fewer and fewer chances to appreciate the cosmic cycles that governed their ancestors' lives not so long ago. Light pollution isn't just robbing the night sky of darkness--it is taking away our common heritage. All the peoples that have ever lived on earth have a history of star-gazing, sky-watching, time-keeping, and calendar-making. All of these human activites spring from our primeval practice of looking up!

This year, 2009, was chosen to be the International Year of Astronomy because it is four hundred years since Galileo's epochal telescopic observations changed forever the face of Western thought. The venerable science journal, Nature, has devoted its latest issue to astronomy.

Happy New Year!

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