Dark Skies, Dark Internet

Orion Constellation by davedehetre

Orion Constellation by davedehetre

Looking around the internet today, I’m amazed to see how many people and websites are in their own way protesting SOPA and PIPA. What is most fascinating to me is the reaction people have as the sites they count on day to day blink out. Should SOPA or PIPA actually get passed, we run the risk of having the internet we know and love slowly wink out one site at a time. It would start with a blogger here, a video mashup artist there, starting with the faint voices shining among all the URLS, and as they winked out, folks wouldn’t notice, and by the time the big boys – the Wikipedias and the Reddits – started to get turned off, we’d all be numb to what was going, and just let them wink out as the internet went dark. It’s only because of this sudden, out of no where, loose of these sites that we are woken up to what’s going on.

It is easy to not notice what you are losing if it is a slow and gradual process.

This is true in lots of different venues. For instance, if it’s nighttime, go outside and look up. I’ll still be here.


So what did you see? This time of year the constellation Orion should be hanging on the Southern horizon for Northern hemisphere readers and on the Northern horizon for Southern hemisphere readers. In a nice dark location, you should be able to make out Orion’s head and belt, and all the fabulous nebulosity that makes up M42, the Orion nebulae, within Orion’s sword.

But if you live where I live, you can’t see anything but the brightest stars unless you go get binoculars. And if you live in a city like Boston, where I used to live, Orion is just 7 stars I know are hiding something amazing I just can’t see.

Many of you are finding your own way to make the internet go a little bit blacker today as you do your own small bit to protest SOPA and PIPA. As you make the internet go black, I’d ask you to also help make the night sky go black.

Right now the Globe at Night project is running a global campaign to try and document the effects of light pollution far and near. They are asking you, your kids, your friends, your colleagues, and everyone in the world, to go outside (wait for it, there are more instructions), and look at the constellation Orion and document how what you (and they) see compares to a series of comparison charts. You can download apps for your iOS device to help, and there are finding charts and more on their website.

Today, the increase in suburban sprawl and the proliferation of cheap LED lighting are combining to erase the stars. We don’t notice from day to day unless we’re careful observers. I’ve seen this once – ┬áin the 6 years I lived in Austin, TX as a grad student, I watched the Ring Nebula disappear from easy binocular viewing to nothing as the city glow grew. I know that we’re losing stars here in Edwardsville because I know we’re building malls, and gas stations, and stores, and parking lots, and on cloudy nights the sky reflects orange. It’s hard to watch.

But with data – with your help collecting data for Globe at Night – hopefully we can go to legislatures and go to lighting companies, and go to the people and say, with facts, “We’re losing the stars,” and inspire change. The city of Tucson, Arizona has protected the skies of the nearby Kitt Peak through ordinances. Other cities, but not enough cities, have shown we can create change. We need to keep moving forward, keep passing dark sky initiatives, and keep finding ways to turn the stars back on by making the night once again light pollution free.

Go dark to Protest SOPA & PIPA, and go outside to checkout the darkness, and report what you see to Globe at Night.

Podcaster / Writer / Assistant Research Professor
Technically skilled, communications-focused astronomer with experience in research, university teaching, public outreach, and popular science writing. Possesses passion for teaching astronomy informally and formally, extensive observational astronomy experience, and more than a decade of experience planning and implementing outreach programs. Seeks to build a career promoting science to the public, amateur astronomers, students (K-PhD), and public policy makers through outreach, activity-based teaching, and popular writing, while evaluating the impact of these activities on participant knowledge and attitude.

Specialties: Big Data, Photometry, Pulsating Variable Stars, Science Writing, Public Speaking, Podcasting, Blogging, Web Design, Graphic Design, Mass Communications, Narration


  1. dale January 27, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    has astronomy cast been taken off, or are they just having technical difficulties?

  2. pamela January 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Astronomy Cast left GoDaddy, and when we filed the DNS change, they cut us off. It takes up to 3 days for the new DNS to take effect, so…. Thanks to GoDaddy’s immediate cut off we went dark for up to 3 Days in various parts of the world.

  3. Infinite123Lifer January 28, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    I am new here, just checking things out, sorry if my first comment is tech related but besides that the site ooks pretty interesting. First off I am not knowledgeable about computers or websites…sorry for that, it will be apparent just how lousy my computer skills are in the next paragraph. I noticed something kinda odd. Underneath the ?banner? where it lists

    Astronomy Citizen Science Entertainment Environment Meetings etc…

    all the way until Technology falls directly below the Astronomy…thingy(block?, word? not a link? aargh). Thus when the ?quick menu? (when you slide your pointer onto the word Astronomy) comes up for the Astronomy thingy you get like little subtitles starting with Astrophysics (i think, cannot read it because it is written over the Technology thingy) then Cosmology then Exo Solar Systems then Galaxies…etc. Well, that is the problem, once that quick menu for Astronomy comes up and I start to scroll down the list it immediately launches me into the Technology quick menu because it is in the same line of sight as the Astronomy ?sub-headings?. omg facepalm

    Maybe this is designed to be tricky, maybe keep out the rift raft, i dunno, but I doubt it. Being really smart you probably already know, although usually being really smart entails being really busy as well :) So just thought I would let you know, BTW I figure there is easily another way to access the headings under Astronomy rather than just by scrolling onto Astronomy and then scrolling down to desired topic (such as Planets and/or Stars) however I am writing this email instead, I ll be back later to browse around.


  4. pamela January 31, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    Hi Infinite123Lifer,

    I can’t reproduce your problem. What browser are you using? On Chrome + OS X, they are just normally functioning menus.

  5. Barry in Sacramento February 3, 2012 at 2:19 am #

    Hi Dr Pamela

    I found the problem Infinite123Lifer is talking about on your Starstryder menus. When you put your mouse pointer on the “Astronomy” menu the dropdown menu appears and the first item in the Astronomy dropdown, “Astrophysics” appears right over the top of the “Technology” menu (Technology on the same level as Astronomy). Besides making it messy, so you can’t really read either Astrophysics or Technology, the Technology link interferes with the Astrophysics submenu, making it hard to get to the menu topics below Astrophysics by moving the mouse. I was able to get to the other items by using the scroll wheel on my mouse, but it is certainly annoying. I’m using Firefox 10.0.

    By the way, I do a lot of driving, and so have been spending my time listening to multiple podcasts of Astronomy Cast for sometimes hours on end. You’ve got a great voice for it. While now in the telecom/fiber optics field, when I was young I must have been as interested in Astronomy as you were, so the work you and Fraser do is much appreciated.

  6. Steve Locher February 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    I spent a few months in Joshua Tree, California last summer and Joshua Tree National Park has a Dark Sky program where they are working with surrounding communities (some good progress, but not as good as one would hope), and encouragingly, the US Marine Corp base there, the largest in the States, has reduced their night sky impact by 60%. Well done by the National Park and the Marines. Also, Joshua Tree National Park does have an astronomy program with their own portable telescope and offers really fun, free public viewings.

  7. sandeep kumar March 9, 2012 at 4:44 am #

    thanks for the information . if you want more information about what is the lunar eclipse, total eclipse, lunar eclipse check my website http://whatisthelunareclipse.com/. it give more information about that .

  8. Infinite123Lifer May 20, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    With all the cool stuff happening around here I am reluctant to actually mention the same minuscule problem I had last time, but I am still having a problem using the Astronomy>> tab because the Technology>> tab is directly below it…its like I need a wider screen to move the Technology>> up behind the Teaching>> tab so that there is only 1 line of tabs instead of 2. I noticed that Barry in Sacramento actually understood my garbled explanation. I too am using Firefox, I checked for the version, I think its Firefox 3.6.24 I know it wont make things darker :) but being able to use that Astronomy>> tab might shed a little of the good light in my direction, and perhaps other Firefox users directions (if that be the problem).

    most likely the riff raft ;)

    ps I am such a noob its sad.

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