Why we observe - and why we interpret - the sky is different for each member of the club. The following, however, are some of the key reasons:
People are curious about their entire environment. Humans are curious about their place in the universe, not just the animals, plants, and rocks that surround them. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people today live in towns and cities surrounded by a landscape that physically blocks the sky from view. At night, cities have a constant glow that also blocks the sky from view. Many of us have isolated ourselves from the environment for matters of convenience. We hide away in our houses. If it is too hot, we turn on the air conditioner; if it is too cold, we turn on the heat; if it is too dark, we turn on the lights. For the vast majority of our lives seemingly are disconnected from the natural world.
The contrast between city sky and country sky at night is profound. Because the vast majority of America’s population today lives in urban settings, it is only when they travel to parks in dark-sky locations that they actually can see the stars of night. It is an unfortunate fact that by the year 2025 some 90% of the American people who live in cities will never see the night sky in all its glory according to the National Park Service. If they don’t see the sky in today’s rural parks, when and where will they?
People are amazed when they see a dark night sky. It is not uncommon to hear people who have returned from a camping trip under a dark sky to tell with awe “the stars seemed much nearer the earth”. As a result of this cosmic wonder, astronomy programs have proven to be wildly popular in state and national parks. For some a dark night experience leads to a lifelong memory. It’s easy to see why, considering the amazing beauty of the universe that surrounds us.
People appreciate looking through a telescope. One look at the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn, a sparkling star cluster, a wispy nebula, a distant galaxy, and it’s all oohs and ahs. No one unfamiliar with the wonders of the cosmos can walk away not being impressed. This is the beginning of both a heightened awareness and a new respect for the world around us.
People need to understand our relationship to the rest of the universe. Perspectives change when people come to realize that humans – nearly 7 billion strong – occupy a tiny blue marble orbiting in the “Goldilocks zone” – not too hot and not too cold – around just a ordinary star in the vast hostile place we call space. We seem to have a primal need to understand, and this understanding has implications.
People won’t preserve what they don’t appreciate, they won’t protect what they don’t know about, and they won’t defend what they don’t understand. Earth is a spaceship orbiting a star – one of hundreds of billions that make up the Milky Way galaxy; the remainder of the universe – consisting of hundreds of billions of galaxies each with billions and billions of stars – makes up the remaining 99.9999999999 ad infinitum percent of the universe. It is incumbent upon nature interpreters to point out and explain the relationships between Earth and the rest of the cosmos, and help humans understand their place in it.