How can we define what we gain from seeing the universe?

University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston

The City Dark–

This week, I attended a film screening at the University of Michigan Biological Station: a research and educational facility in Pellston. It was part of their summer environmental film series which I had known about for a while, but hadn’t been able to attend. I was finally able to get out of work early enough to make the short drive over, parked and walked up the long, dirt path to the auditorium past little tin bunkers. Memories began to bubble up of the time I had spent at “bug camp” in college while taking an Ethnobotany class through the U of M bio station. I had memorized 250 native plant species and could identify each by their scientific and common name along with a medicinal use. I could probably only name 20 now.

Photo Courtesy of Wicked Delicate Films

I chose the right week to attend the film series! The City Dark, is a feature length, independent documentary about light pollution. The filmmaker, Ian Cheney, who lives in Brooklyn, was at the event and spoke with the audience afterward for a Q&A. Cheney has worked on several well-known, award winning documentaries including King Corn, available on Netflix and which I stopped watching half way through because I thought it was boring. But, that’s beside the point.  I really enjoyed The City Dark and thought it struck on a topic that has not been widely talked about. It was also thrilling to meet someone doing something exciting (independent film making) and best of all, I was able to purchase a short documentary Cheney’s company recently released about urban farming! Woo-hoo!

The City Dark poses a deceptively simple question, “What do we lose, when we lose the night?”. The film leads viewers on a quest to understand how light pollution is affecting people and the planet. This is not the most information-packed or scientific exploration of the topic. It is a first person narrative and personal reflection on what the stars and the dark mean to Cheney and what they might mean to all of us. More of my thoughts on this film: Fun Facts

Photo Courtesy of Wicked Delicate Films

Are the stars part of nature? How can we define what we gain from seeing the universe? Does human culture somehow need the context of the greater cosmos, to help us keep things in perspective? These were some of the questions that surfaced while watching the documentary. There were few answers, but I like films that force me come to my own conclusions.

The Headlands–

In early May 2011, Emmet County was awarded International Dark Sky Park designation for its Headlands property just west of Mackinac — only the sixth such park in the United States and the ninth in the world. When I learned this, I knew my next clear night would be spent there searching for the perfect photograph of the night sky.

My luck had recently been on an upward trend, but I was still surprised to learn that one of my coworkers is an astronomy major and has a telescopic camera! I considered myself extremely fortunate when he said he would be willing to take it out to the Headlands and snap a few photos with me.

My next post will be about our adventure at the Headlands featuring super awesome photos we took along the way.

Check out this website that features a map of the U.S. with areas of light pollution and dark skies– Dark Sky Finder

Budget for this week’s activities–

Gas@$3.83/gal + film on urban farming = $15

Great Lake State song of the week–

Saturday Looks Good to Me is an experimental indie pop band based in Ann Arbor, MI. My featured song of the week is off their 2003 album, All Your Summer Songs.

Saturday Looks Good to Me- Ultimate Stars    (yup)