The night sky has been the stuff of myth and legend since ancient times. Our earliest ancestors used the stars as a calendar, a source of navigation, a guide to planting — and star-gazing might well have been the first form of nighttime entertainment.
What is the source of our fascination? Perhaps it is because the stars are so mysterious that we can assign them any meaning we want. You can wish upon a star, follow your star, or gaze upon a star; even the great Leonardo da Vinci once wrote “Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.”
Robert Frost wrote fancifully of fixing your dream on the stars in his poem about the constellation Canis Major:
I'm a poor underdog,
But tonight I will bark
With the great Overdog
That romps through the dark.
Light pollution has already changed the experience of star-gazing for children in the 21st century: for 9 of 10 Americans the sky is so bright they effectively live in perpetual moonlight; for 8 of 10 the night sky never gets darker than the end of twilight, and 2 out of 3 Americans can no longer see the Milky Way.
There are still places to view the sky in total darkness, although in Southern California they are vanishing especially fast. Thankfully for those of us who can’t get to these dark sky locations, a dedicated group of astrophotographers is preserving the night sky. The slideshow above shares spectacular images from some of these acclaimed professionals, as well as a few amateurs.