I awoke once during the night. I pushed the canopy aside and looked out. The moon was a sharply defined crescent and the sky was perfectly clear. The stars shone with such fierce, contained brilliance that it seemed absurd to call the night dark. The sea lay quietly, bathed in a shy, light-footed light, a dancing play of black and silver that extended without limits all about me. The volume of things was confounding - the volume of air above me, the volume of water around and beneath me. I was half-moved, half-terrified. I felt like the sage Markandeya, who fell out of Vishnu’s mouth while Vishnu was sleeping and so beheld the entire universe, everything that there is. Before the sage could die of fright, Vishnu awoke and took him back into his mouth. For the first time I noticed - as I would notice repeatedly during my ordeal, between one throe of agony and the next - that my suffering was taking place in a grand setting. I saw my suffering for what it was, finite and insignificant, and I was still. My suffering did not fit anywhere, I realized. And I could accept this. It was all right. (It was daylight that brought my protest: “No! No! No! My suffering does matter. I want to live! I can’t help but mix my life with that of the universe. Life is a peephole, a single tiny entry onto a vastness - how can I not dwell on this brief, cramped view I have of things? This peephole is all I’ve got!”) I mumbled words of Muslim prater and went back to sleep.
Darkened Cities by Thierry Cohen imagines the starry skies we’d see in urban areas if we turned off all the lights.
About the project:
Before these pictures can exist, the sky from one place has to be superimposed upon cityscape from another. It is impossible to see this detail in the night sky above a city. Atmospheric and light pollution combine to make looking into the urban sky like looking past bright headlights while driving.
By travelling to places free from light pollution but situated on precisely the same latitude as his cities, Cohen obtains skies which, as the world rotates about its axis, are the very ones visible above the cities a few hours earlier or later. To find the right level of atmospheric clarity, Cohen has to go into the wild places of the earth, the Atacama, the Mojave, the western Sahara.
As more and more of the world’s population becomes urban, and as we lose our connection with the natural world, so it becomes plain that damage is caused by light pollution. There may be connections to certain cancers, and there are psychological burdens of permanent day. The ‘city that never sleeps’ is made up of millions of individuals breaking natural cycles of work and repose. Lose sight of the sky, and you become a rat in a lab.
Cohen hasn’t simply shown us the skies that we’re missing. His cities look dead under the fireworks display above No lights in the windows, no tracers of traffic. They are (in fact) photographed in daylight, when lights shine out less brightly. In urban mythology the city teems with energy and illumines everything around it. Cohen’s pictures are crafted to say the opposite. These are cold cities, cut off from the seemingly infinite energies above.
And then I realize that
We need to use our own two feet to walk these tracks,
And we need to squad up and we have to watch each other’s backs,
With forgiveness as torch and imagination our sword
We’ll untie the ropes of hate and slash open the minds of the bored
And we’ll start a world so equal and free
Every inch of this earth is yours and all the land and all the sea
Imagine no restrictions but the climate and the weather
Then we can explore space together,
Enter Shikari - Constellations
Will be back in South Africa
I sincerely do not understand why space exploration and travel is not a higher priority of humanity.
Is it not obvious that we’ve invested so much into acquiring knowledge and developing ourselves as a race, but nearly literally placed all of our eggs into the only basket available to us? Is it not also obvious that there are things in this universe that can have profound effects on our planet earth outside of our control?
All of our petty squabbles, and wars, and arms races, and differences over religion, politics, economics, marriage, and whatever the fuck else we want to argue about are moot if the ground we stand on as individuals and as a race disappeared from under us.
Why are we so shortsighted to not realize that for the sake of the survival of our race, of our knowledge, of the memories of our existence, we need to figure out how to get off this planet and populate the universe? Or do we just not care?
In semi-related news, private space company SpaceX has delayed launch of its spacecraft heading to the ISS until May 19. Crossing my fingers that this launch, originally scheduled for the past February, works out.