Can You Still See the Stars?


Can You Still See the Stars?

One of my fondest childhood memories is laying in the middle of a big cow pasture at night on our family’s acreage out in central Louisiana and looking up at the Milky Way. I did it enough times to remember it well, and two years ago I brought my own children to that same field to look up at those same stars. Except 30 years later, the stars weren’t there anymore.

All the wooded land we once hunted is now clear-cut, and a property that was once totally isolated now has neighbors on each side. Neighbors. Truly, you can’t go home again.

This article in The Guardian brought all that back to me this morning:

For anyone living near a major metropolis, a satellite image of the Milky Way seems abstract: we understand it to be a document of something true, but our understanding is purely theoretical. In 1994, after a predawn earthquake cut power to most of Los Angeles, the Griffith Observatory received phone calls from spooked residents asking about “the strange sky.” What those callers were seeing were stars.

I was born in 1975, and since then the world population has doubled. The US population is up by a third, and it will double in the next decade. Think about what that means for sprawl and the spread of light pollution. The stars have been our guides and companions since we had eyes to see them with, but right now they’re vanishing from view.

On the one hand, it’s tragic to think that my grandchildren may grow up without the stars overhead. On the other, God help us all if those stars ever come back.

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Jon Stokes is Deputy Editor at

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