Revisiting the Skies of Our Ancestors

Our world is changing; it has always been changing, especially in the age of humanity. However, one of the biggest differences between our experience and that of our ancestors with the world is one that many don’t consider. In a society centered around convenience and technology, where neon signs and city lights are commonplace, the true night sky is becoming rare. The Milky Way, once visible from anywhere on Earth, is now a phenomenon some people may never experience.

In a big city, an abundance of artificial lights can make the night sky nearly as bright as day. This is known as “light pollution,” and is only one source of interference with truly dark skies. Even natural light sources , such as the Moon, can cloud our view of the stars. The best dark skies are viewed in remote places, far from city lights, on a clear night near the time of the new moon. In the US, these sites, more often than not, are national parks. The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Death Valley are just a few examples of International Dark Sky Parks – locations recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association for their views of the night sky, unhindered by artificial light.

Grand Teton National Park is another of the top locations in the country, rating at a class 1-2 on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale. The scale runs from 1 to 9, rating dark skies from completely light-pollution-free (class 1) to inner city skies (class 9). It is determined by a number of qualifications, such as visibility and clarity of the Milky Way, visibility of certain astronomical objects to the naked eye, and the illumination of clouds. On this scale, the Grand Canyon rates 2-3, Bryce Canyon rates 2, Death Valley rates 3-5, and our neighboring Yellowstone rates 2-4.

Truly dark skies are a rare and beautiful sight in this day and age, and any opportunity to witness them is not one to be missed. Whether that experience is in the Tetons with us, or in a different National Park, a star-studded sky, enhanced by the swath of gas and stars that is our Milky Way, is a sight that must be seen to be believed.

— Claire Douglas