by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
With each passing year and new wave of technology, it’s harder than ever to imagine what human life was like thousands of years ago. Most kids today can barely fathom the idea of families gathered around the radio in the first half of the last century, let alone a life with nature and the outdoors as the main source of entertainment.
But it’s still possible to be instantly transported to the ancient past, without a time machine! Find a dark place away from the light pollution of cities and suburbs and look up. You’ll see the exact same stars and planets as viewed by our long-ago ancestors.
If you take your time and study the stars, it won’t take long to grasp why our ancestors found shapes in the stars and gave them names and mythologies. The night sky has 88 officially recognized constellations in the night sky, and 48 of them are ancient or original, meaning they were described by the ancient Greeks, Babylonians and even earlier peoples.
Here in New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state, most of us can’t simply step outside and view the night sky as it looked before modern civilization illuminated the world. But did you know this state we’re in has several fantastic “dark sky” areas, where the stars can be seen in their full twinkling brightness?
One of them is the Franklin Parker Preserve in Chatsworth, Burlington County, which is buffered from light pollution by the surrounding expanses of Brendan Byrne State Forest, Wharton State Forest and Bass River State Forest. Recently about 45 adults and children came out for a “Star Watch,” co-sponsored by New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Willingboro Astronomical Society.
“Star Watches” use modern technology – powerful telescopes and laser pointers – to spark an interest in astronomy in those who might otherwise not look up at night and feel awe at the timelessness of constellations, planets and other celestial bodies.
In addition to teaching kids to recognize Orion’s Belt or locate the North Star using the Big Dipper as a pointer, these “Star Watches” foster an appreciation for the nation’s increasingly rare dark sky areas.
Let the night sky inspire a sense of wonder in you and your family! New Jersey has more than a dozen amateur astronomy clubs or astronomical societies, and most of them offer public star-gazing at observatories or preserves in dark sky areas. For a list of astronomy clubs, go to www.go-astronomy.com/astro-clubs-state.php?State=NJ.
The International Dark-Sky Association is a non-profit organization working to preserve the starry night – and protect wildlife, cut energy waste and stop light pollution. For more information, including an interactive map of dark sky areas, go to www.darksky.org.
And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources – including dark skies – visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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