Dark Skies

Across the world, lights, billboards and neon signs are aglow in the night sky. With the rise of these electric lights, it’s difficult to find true darkness. But Mark Bailey, Amateur Astrophotographer and proprietor of the Torrey House Alpen Glow Observatory in Torrey, Utah is determined to keep at least his corner of the world in the dark. Our Partner “Science Friday” has the story.

TRANSCRIPT

Across the world, lights, billboards and neon signs are aglow in the night sky.

With the rise of these electric lights, it's difficult to find true darkness, but Mark Bailey, amateur astrophotographer and proprietor of the Torrey House-Alpenglow Observatory in Torrey, Utah, is determined to keep at least his corner of the world in the dark.

Our partner, 'Science Friday,' has the story.

Darkness for humans can be really scary.

One of the reasons that we find ourselves now looking for more of it is because we've done such a good job getting rid of it.

As soon as we had light through fire, we utilized that, and the consequence from switching from fire to electric light is that we didn't have to earn those photons anymore.

All of a sudden, we could illuminate our whole night without much cost and without seemingly a consequence.

And because we conflated light at night with safety, all of a sudden, our natural night disappeared.

When we're walking around the city at night, we can see evidence of our lack of awareness of how to protect natural night by an ever-present acorn-shape light fixture.

We experience glare from that light bulb, which tells our brains that it's time to be awake, so we'll increase adrenaline production and stop making melatonin, which helps us go to bed.

Basically anytime there's lights that just seems like it's to be there, not to illuminate something specific that someone needs to see, that's when we know we're doing more harm than good.

You really have to leave the city to find true darkness.

Here in Torrey, you're kind of the center of the Colorado Plateau.

We're 7,000 feet high, and the east and west horizons are low enough that as the Sun sets, it casts a shadow out into the eastern sky, and that shadow begins to rise, and it has a dark color at the bottom, and then it turns lighter, and there's actually some colorations of orange, and then it goes back into almost the daytime sky of blue.

It is one of the best spots in the 48 states for an astronomic observatory.

♪♪ I'm Mark Bailey, and I'm the proprietor of the Torrey House-Alpenglow Observatory, which was my father's, is my father's.

He asked me to move it down here because he had it up in Salt Lake City, which is heavy light pollution.

So I don't know.

I'm an amateur astrophotographer.

♪♪ Capitol Reef National Park is an International Dark-Sky Association Dark Sky Park.

We're protecting one of the last and wildest wildernesses, so our access to the sky in its raw form without our light pollution is important for an intrinsic sense of wilderness, but it's important in our own selfish sense as humans to keep in touch with the physical humans that we are, that have senses to see this kind of thing.

♪♪ Just below that cloud is Mars.

Yep.

Mm.

The horizon.

But then you see that bright one is Jupiter.

♪♪

Mm-hmm, sure.

The word has been getting out a little bit that we have this observatory, and people are naturally drawn to this kind of telescopic portal to the deeper cosmos.

Oh, my gosh.

Yeah, that is Saturn.

Amazing.

If you give it a minute, give it some nights...

Oh, there she is.

...you start to wake up to the human that you are.

Wow.

When we can't see the night sky in its natural splendor, we're missing out on 50 percent of the information we've gathered since we've been a species about how to be ecologically situated.

[ Traffic noise ] So in addition to messing with our sleep-wake cycles, too much light at night, even through our closed eyelids, can result in higher rates of breast cancer, can increase anxiety, depression, heart disease.

Our bodies literally don't know when and how to rest.

It's the biggest step we've taken away from being integrated into our ecology.

♪♪

At first, anybody and everybody is just drawn to the majesty of a dark night they just could never see in the city.

♪♪ Seems like people are just as thrilled as if they'd gone to a favorite music concert or seen... better than a movie.

Just let the night present itself.

I think it's because we evolved under the night sky, and we're feeling home.

We have precious few reminders that we're connected and that there are things bigger and more important than us, and I think that there's nothing that gets us there quicker than staring into a glittery abyss that is really clear that we both deeply belong and don't matter at all.

I had the misfortune of losing a brother to suicide.

I didn't realize how troubled he was, and when I think of Mike the most is often under a starry night.

I've gotten up at 4:00 because the Moon has finally gone down, and that's the one chance that night to see it completely dark, and I think of my brother, and I often ponder the fact that the stardust that became me became conscious, and I wonder... he's out there in it, and it makes me glad to be alive.

♪♪ ♪♪ The night sky with the sense of my brother in my mind expands me, I hope, makes me a better person.