diamond geezer

 Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Standing on BestMate's front doorstep last night, I spotted something I haven't seen for ages. It's a rarity in London, something I ought to seek out more often but never do. It only appears after dark, and even then only if you know where to look. An endangered species, you could say, and definitely something that was more common during my childhood. I paused briefly and stared, before it slipped out of sight as I continued my journey home.

Standing beneath the soaring streetlights on the Bow Flyover, my view was very different. Traffic streamed relentlessly by, blinding me in its successive headlamps. A pair of billboards at flyover-height beamed down advertising slogans for unwanted products and services. From the neighbouring tower block, uncurtained windows revealed the silhouettes of highrise residents flitting around inside their elevated empires. The golden arches of a well-known burger chain shone forth across the roundabout, luring customers inside illuminated portals. And, high above it all, the sodium glare of a blurred featureless sky, open to the universe yet completely concealed.

Standing on BestMate's front doorstep last night, I saw stars. Not a single pinpoint of light but several, twinkling in the night sky above backwater E13. Globes of fire radiating out across the universe from umpteen light years distant. Entire constellations - that's Orion, there's Taurus - hanging like a glittering net across the firmament. The glories of the cosmos just as I remembered them, and just as awe-inspiring as they'd been when I was eight. Except not quite. There were nowhere near as many stars as there ought to have been, only the major players. Only those of the highest magnitude had the strength to shine through these suburban skies, even at the end of a dimly-lit cul-de-sac away from major lamppost clusters. Even London's darkest skies aren't dark enough.

Standing on my Dad's gravel drive, the view is considerably better. Rural Norfolk's not over-blessed by artificial overnight illumination, which leaves the night sky free to shine forth in celestial splendour. So long as I don't accidentally set off the dazzling security light, I can stand and stare up at the heavens almost as nature intended. A hierarchy of brilliance, from sharp pinpricks down to indistinguishable speckles, twinkling out across a background of sweeping starlight. Far more than three constellations appear, and there are usually planets to pick out as they wheel imperceptibly across the heavens night by night and year by year. It's everything the amateur astronomer could desire, utterly telescope-worthy, and ultimately relentlessly awe-inspiring.

Back standing outside my own place in Bow, it's as if none of the rest of the universe exists. The sky's not somewhere to stare, it's somewhere to ignore. The only star I ever see from home is the Sun, and when that sets any hope of urban astronomy fades. Betelgeuse never intrudes, Ursa Major hides from view, and the Milky Way might as well not exist. I live in perpetual light, surrounded by safely-illuminated streets, in a leaky photon-rich bubble. My city-bound neighbourhood has no window on outer space, no sense of ultimate scale, no sense of cosmic insignificance. I may only notice when I'm standing on somebody else's doorstep, but what my life lacks is star quality.

star The Campaign for Dark Skies
star International Dark Sky Association
star Dark Skies Awareness


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream