Sunday, July 12, 2015

See the Dark

USA Today's section of the Cincinnati Enquirer feature article is titled "6,000 Stars Light up Our 'Dark Sky' Parks".   Hmmmm.......   On my last trip to Kansas, I had just finished listening to the Modern Scholar series "Heavens Above,  Stars, Constellations and the Sky"  by Professor James B. Kaler.  I had remembered him saying that only 2000 stars were visible in our sky.

I had repeated this fact last Thursday evening as A.M. and I were relaxing after a tennis match looking up at a clear night in the stars.   Naturally I was wondering if my memory of details was waning.  Had I passed on inaccurate information. Which figure was correct - 6000 or 2000?

From Professor Kaler's text:

"The count of naked-eye stars depends on location (altitude, humidity, eye-sensitivity), but at the limit, some 6,000 to 8,000 can be seen without aid. The number seen on any given night depends on what part of the sky you are looking at. Some of it is sparse, while near the Milky Way—a band of light that runs across the sky—there are crowds of them. On any night, one can see perhaps 2,000, less than half the total because absorption by the Earth’s atmospheric blanket dims the ones near the horizon, rendering the fainter ones invisible. They fall into random, charming patterns that we name and call “constellations.”

So both figures are technically correct - it just depends on location and a truly dark sky. The USA Today article was about Natural Bridges National Monument in the middle of the Utah desert - one of darkest places in the states.

Next time you're out looking on a dark night - start counting.  You may be lucky to see 100 because of the city lights reflecting up.  

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