I have always been interested in the natural world. Observing animals, plants, land, sea and sky have always been part of my daily life. Whether walking though an unspoiled forest, viewing mountains on the other side of a valley or exploring the life of a tide pool, engaging with the natural world is important to me because it reinforces my sense of self and offers a fleeting glimpse of where I fit in to the universe.
Out in the dark, either alone or with a group of people, my far wanderings serve to stimulate my interest in sharing the night sky as a natural resource. A treasure no less deserving of preservation than the wild lands and oceans of our world.
I was a young boy in the late 1960’s, the period of our greatest effort in space exploration. Words like ‘Mercury’, ‘Gemini’ and ‘Apollo’ held mystique and allure. But, the moment that forever changed the way I look at the sky occurred on a chilly, wind-swept stretch of beach in Virginia. On March 7th 1970, I witnessed the total eclipse of the Sun. Ever since that day, observing the sky brings me closest to a complete experience of wonder and personal inspiration. My eclipse memoir
My continuing study of astronomy enables me to experience the awe and beauty of a part of our natural world that many people don’t take time to appreciate. Technology and modern living have made it possible for us to be on the go around the clock. As a result, what we used to appreciate about the night sky is often overlooked or hidden from view by artificial lighting.
When I share an image like the one above with people, many react with a sense of delight and wonder brought on by what they perceive to be a beautiful sight. But, if we think more deeply about what such an image represents, the perception of beauty often falls away. If you were inbound from a journey to another part of our solar system or galaxy, and you approached Earth on the sunlit side, it is likely there would few signs of human presence directly observable from space. However, the part of the Earth in night would show concentrations of light from electric power grids. Direct evidence of tremendous waste of both energy and financial resources. Proper shielding and more efficient lighting allows better stewardship of our natural resources. The technology already exists.
Peter Lipscomb, award-winning astrophotographer, columnist, and stargazer operates Astronomy Adventures. In addition to conducting night sky tours, he serves as Director of the Night Sky Program for the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance. Over the years, he has worked with Anheuser-Busch, Apple Computer, The Bishop's Lodge, Dow Corning, General Electric, Inn of The Anasazi, KPMG, Microsoft, The National Park Service and Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico State Parks, Osram Opto Semiconductor, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, Raytheon Systems, Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, Taos Pueblo, and Washington Mutual. He has also served as exclusive entertainment for several intimate wedding parties during their special celebrations.
During a tour, Peter engages his guest's interest by bringing the wonders of the night sky into a level that is easily accessible and understood. The general framework of how the sky works and what is seen depending upon the time of year is explained. Major constellations are pointed out. Using star lore based upon Greek mythology and other cultures from around the world, Peter helps place the star formations into a memorable context.
Moving from a broad view of the sky, Peter gradually brings the more remote jewels of the night sky within reach. Through binoculars and telescopes, participants are introduced to close-up views of objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters. The latest scientific findings about each object are shared to help provide a foundation for a deeper understanding of what is being viewed.