Astrolyricists #3 – Bomb the music industry! – Stand there until you’re sober

“We can’t see the stars tonight ’cause apartments generate ambient light”

Bomb the music industry! – Stand there until you’re sober

If you step outside on a clear night and look up at the sky, chances are you’ll see some stars. Not lots, but some.

Most of us live in towns and cities where ambient light from houses, cars, streetlights and other human-made sources create light pollution. This light pollution drowns out light coming from the fainter stars, so we only see the brightest ones, such as those in Orion’s belt or the Plough.

Orion over Cardiff. Credit: Stuart Lowe

Orion over Cardiff with the orange glow of light pollution on the horizon. Credit: Stuart Lowe

To really see the stars you need to get away from people! Heading out into a remote location on a clear night, away from the bright lights of the towns and cities reveals a spectacular sight. Let your eyes adjust to the dark and you’ll see countless stars, meteors, satellites, and the band of the Milky Way. Under really good conditions your eyes can even pick out the faint smudge of light that is the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million lightyears away. The International Dark-Sky Association maintains a list of Dark Sky Places which are ideal for such stargazing. Professional optical astronomical observatories are located in some of the most remote locations in the world, on tops of mountains or in high deserts, not only away from light pollution but above the clouds and much of the atmosphere.

Orion from a dark side with some bonus meteors. Credit: Darren Baskill

Orion from a dark side with some bonus meteors. Credit: Darren Baskill

Light pollution is becoming more and more of a problem. A recent study found that 60% of Europeans and nearly 80% of North Americans live in locations where the Milky Way has become invisible due to light pollution. While this might not seem like too big a deal to many people, after all astronomers can just go to one of the dark locations mentioned above, there are other, perhaps more direct, consequences. Light pollution has been reported to negatively affect birdsmammals, and even humans. Not to mention that it seems like a waste of electricity to light up the skies instead of the ground! Luckily projects like the International Dark-Sky Association are campaigning to raise awareness of light pollution, and protect our remaining dark skies sites. You can help by participating in citizen science projects such as Globe at Night, which asks members of the public to report how many stars they can see in a particular constellation, in order to measure the light pollution where they are.

Despite all of this, it’s still worth having a look up at the sky from wherever you are. Even from the middle of a city you can still see the brightest stars, as well as the Moon and some planets at the right time of the night/month/year. I’m yet to go somewhere where the light pollution is so bad that I couldn’t see any stars (as Bomb the music industry! suggest) and have successfully done public stargazing events from the centres of Portsmouth and Manchester. So get out and look up!


Songs in the Key of Astronomy

Anyone who is writing or has written a PhD thesis knows that finding suitable quotes for the beginning of the thesis (and possibly the start of each chapter) is an important and time-consuming part of the process. Classic quotes found in many astronomy/astrophysics PhD theses include “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars” from the Oscar Wilde play Lady Windermere’s Fan, “The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible” by Albert Einstein and the favourite of many a Jodrell-ite, “At Jodrell Bank, someone decided it was time for a nice cup of tea” courtesy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

When I started writing my thesis a couple of months ago, I thought I would try to find relevant song lyrics to include in my thesis. Surprisingly, I quickly realised that the bands I listen to don’t tend to write songs about galaxies and black holes! The quote at the beginning of my thesis is currently “I like the Universe, but she messes with my words” from Resolution by Motion City Soundtrack, which I find quite appropriate given the difficulty encountered during the thesis-writing process. I have however come across lyrics that could have been suitable had I chosen a different area of astrophysics for my PhD:

  • “Constants aren’t so constant anymore” – Valentine by The Get Up Kids. Appropriate for a thesis that looks at the Hubble Constant (which isn’t actually a constant)
  • “That orange ball, that burning orb of fire in the sky is gonna explode and we’re all gonna die!” – Side Projects Are Never Successful by Bomb the Music Industry! A little morbid but could work if your research involved supernovae.
  • “Stars are out tonight, and you’re the brightest one shining in my sky” – IOU one galaxy by The Ataris. An obvious one for anyone studying stars.

Anyone else out there got some suggestions?