Dark Night Skies

By Susam Pal on 17 Dec 2020

Having grown up in a small town in the 1990s, I used to get pretty dark skies at night. The night sky combined with a few books on amateur astronomy from our school's library really fuelled my desire to understand the universe and our place in it.

I got photocopies of two star charts (for both hemispheres) off a book I found in our school library and began using the star chart for the northern hemisphere to study the night sky. The winter sky was and still is my favourite. To spot the easily recognizable Orion constellation and know that its second brightest star with the distinctly reddish hue is a red supergiant star that could explode any day was fascinating.

The 1990s were also a great time to grow up for an astronomy enthusiast like me. Two bright comets visited our neighbourhood in 1996-1997. First Comet Hyakutake visited us in March 1996 and then Comet Hale-Bopp became spectacularly bright in April 1997.

Now 23 years later, as an adult living in a severely light-polluted city, the recent Geminids meteor shower was rather disappointing. My wife and I went to our terrace to watch the meteor shower after midnight. A nice dark sky would have let us see about 2-4 meteors shooting across the sky every minute. But we did not have a nice dark sky. The whole sky was lit orange. As a kid, I would have never imagined a sky could have such a colour at night! We could spot only a meteor or two every 5-10 minutes.

I think it is very unfortunate that kids growing up in cities today do not get to see the beautiful night sky the way I did during my childhood days. A clear, dark night sky can be a great source of inspiration and wonder for children.

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