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The Death of a Silent Beauty

Friday 14 September 2007

IT IS late evening in early January. The days are short and the nights are long. The place is Malhamdale in the Yorkshire Dales. This dale is well known for its beautiful landscape, in particular the dramatic cove that was formed as a result of tremendous forces reshaping the planet. The Cove was formed when one part of the Earth's crust moved relative to another by nearly a mile vertically. Over a span of time covering millions of our lifetimes, we are left with the white imposing cliff we see today.

The surface of our Earth is dynamically shifting constantly as we live our lives and will continue to do so long after we are all dead. One day this lovely cove will be a lot different to what we see now as a result of the actions of these movements and climatic changes. In the daytime millions of people have appreciated this beauty and can contemplate the ancient beauty of the formation of our Earth.

Location of Andromeda Galaxy in relation to the constellation Cassiopeia
Location of Andromeda Galaxy in relation
to theconstellation Cassiopeia

On this evening, there is no moon in the sky and it is cold and there are no clouds in the sky and most people, whether residents or guest, will be indoors. A person stood outside in this dale at this moment could look towards the point where the Sun disappeared below the horizon several hours ago. If our observer were to lift their head upwards, a dazzling display of thousands of stars in the sky would be obvious. After a short time our observer would notice that these stars are not evenly spread. Some are clustered together, some are bright, and some are dim. Our observer would begin to notice that these stars are different colours. Soon patterns would emerge. One pattern in particular would be become clear. This pattern of stars is like a large letter W in the sky. Astronomers call this pattern of stars Cassiopeia.

Not so obvious is a faint smudge in the sky near this pattern. This smudge would be about the size of your thumbnail held out at arm's length. What our observer would be looking at is the Andromeda Galaxy. This is the only galaxy of the billions of billions of galaxies that exist in the universe that we can see from Earth with the un-aided eye. This object is huge. The statistics of this object almost defy belief. The Andromeda Galaxy is a collection of hundreds of billions of stars revolving in a spiral pattern. Just to count a billion of these would take about 30 years. The distance across this object is 160 000 light years and the galaxy is located about 2.27 million light years away from Earth. Let's think about this for a moment.

A light year is the distance that light can travel in one year. Light travels about 186 000 miles in one second. So the distance of a light year in miles is about 1 000 000 000 000 miles. If you were to get your allotted three score years and ten of life. It would take you just over 27 000 lifetimes to drive just one light year at our national speed limit of 60 miles per hour. So, it would it take about four and half million lifetimes to drive across the Andromeda Galaxy and about eighty three and half million lifetimes to drive there from Earth.

Looking up at this object from Malhamdale, our observer is looking into the past. Looking at the Andromeda Galaxy as it was just over two million years ago - fossil light from one one of the most majestic and beautiful objects in the sky. Easily comparable in beauty to our well known Cove and much more ancient.

While you are doing this, think of those that can't see it. The millions of people that live in our towns and cities or those that live near brightly lit roads. Or any of those who are near where we have established our street lights, security lights, floodlights... Even now, here in Malhamdale there are glows getting brighter on the horizon to the south, the west and the east from Skipton, Settle, and the Ribble Valley. Only to the north is it truly dark at the moment. To really see it even here in Malhamdale, our observer would need to turn off their house lights.

No Light pollution Large Town Light Pollution Big City
No Light pollution Large Town Light Pollution Big City

To live in the 21st century means we live in a 24 hour world and we think we need the light to accompany it. We are more and more just looking forward. Forward to our car doors, our front doors, the road in front of us. We think we need more light to enable us to live this 24 hour life. Are we becoming frightened of the dark? As we bathe our environment in more and more light, the beauty of the Andromeda Galaxy will silently die from the simple view of our own eyes.

There are many many more objects that will also disappear from our view as we light up more more and more of our hamlets, villages, towns and cities with no regard to the spectacle above our heads. We here at Daelnet are committed to preserving the view of this spectacle for ourselves and for those who will one day be our ancestors.

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