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I grew up in an urban area. I knew that the sky was full of stars, but only in stories. At night I was lucky to see a handful of stars, thank you light pollution. I saw the big dipper, Orion, the moon, the occasional Jupiter, Mars, or Venus, and a vast assortment of airplane lights. For a while I thought that was all there was out there, despite what I learned from Magic School Bus. I’d heard stories that alluded to the wonders of the night sky. I’d had trouble reconciling the mostly black canvas, tinged with a yellowish haze near the horizon, with the descriptions of thousands of bright lights that I heard.

I’d seen star filled skies on trips to national parks, but it was always partly cloudy, or I was too tired to really notice and take it in. It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 when I participated in an eight week long field school in northern Idaho that I truly learned to appreciate the wonders of the night sky, the beauty of the stars and the brightness of the moon. I saw the Milky Way for the first time, it was as wonderfully beautiful as I’d heard people describe. I saw more stars than I’d ever seen in my life, and that was only looking at a small part of it. I saw the stars rotate around the sky as the summer wore on. I saw a moon so bright it blocked out a meteor shower. Stars that could light up the path between my tent and the port-a-potties (poetic isn’t it?).

The stars are what I missed first and most strongly. People I could keep in touch with, stars were simply missing. They were there one night, reminding me that the universe is not just blackness. They were comforting in a way. Beautiful and awe inspiring. They are something that is seen by only a small percent of the modern world’s population, and even fewer Americans. Most of us spend our nights in well lit cities and suburbs. Places that never sleep, where the lights don’t go out. We live in places that have effectively blocked out the night sky. It’s unfortunate really. You don’t realize what you’ve been missing until you experience. You can read about some things as much as you want, see pictures, hear stories. But nothing compares to the experience of looking up at a sky filled with stars, at the milky way, and seeing that planet Earth is just floating in blackness.

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