Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Flat Earth

As the sun’s glow fades and your eyes become accustomed to the night, the sky gradually fills with stars. Thousands of them shimmer blue, silvery white, some gold, some reddish, seemingly set into a great dark bowl, the celestial sphere, overarching the flat earth on which you stand.
Thousands of stars in the night sky?
Maybe that number has brought you back through a starlit ten thousand years and into the incandescent lamp light of your living room or kitchen or bedroom or wherever you are reading this: “I’ve never seen thousands of stars!” you protest.
We said earlier that, from many locations, our sky is spoiled. The sad fact is that, these days, fewer and fewer of us can see anything like the three thousand or so stars that should be visible to the naked eye on a clear evening. Ten thousand years ago, the night sky was not lit up with the light pollution of so many sources of artificial illumination. Unless you sail far out to sea or travel to the high, dry desert of the Southwest, you might go through your entire life without really seeing the night sky, at least not the way our ancestors saw it.

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