by Amy D’Andrea
Have you ever looked up at the sky in different places and wondered why it looked so different? Have your ever noticed that the stars are barely noticeably in some areas of the country but burst out of the night in others? I travel quite a bit for my job and have been to almost every state in the US. One of the things I marvel at when I travel is how much the topography changes. The United States seems to be such a diverse place ranging from ocean landscapes to glorious mountains, from lavish foliage to high deserts. However one of the things that I marvel at the most is the sky. I do not think it is something people think of very often. How different the sky looks I mean. Different and diverse just by the very nature of where you are located when you look up at it. It is the same sky everywhere. Same sky in Florida as it is in Ohio but if you look at it, I mean really look at its features, you will certainly come to have a new appreciation for our sky.
The sky can tell you a great deal about a place. By definition, the sky is the expanse of air over any given point on the earth. The appearance of the sky is influenced by a number of factors, one being weather patterns, another air pollution, and one that some do not realize, is light pollution. Since moving to Colorado I have finally noticed the sky, what a vibrant blue it is in this part of the country, and how the sunsets seem to set the entire atmosphere on fire. I notice how soft and white the clouds are as they spread throughout the sky and how those clouds turn into beautiful reflections of pink and orange at dusk.
The sky looks so much more spectacular here than anywhere else I have ever traveled, even more spectacular than any picture of the sky published in a magazine or book. Being avid recreational photographers, my husband and I have started to capture the sky in all its glory as we are out and about in Colorado. My husband has a knack for capturing the magical sunsets. Sometimes people think that we edit our photos, that the color is tweaked, but it isn’t. That is the amazing thing about the sky here, the colors look like a painting but are real. Even here in Colorado the appearance of the sky changes depending an where you are in the state. The sky in Denver looks very different than the sky in the mountains.
But nothing in the world draws me in like the stars. I have never seen stars like I have in Colorado. I remember a month or so after we had moved here from Rhode Island we were driving home from a day in the mountains. We live near Denver on the western side in the foothills and had traveled about 3 hours west over the continental divide of the Rocky Mountains to visit some hot springs. Coming home we missed a turn and ended up north of Leadville deep in the heart of the mountains. We pulled over to check the GPS when we noticed something neither of us had seen before. It was the Milky Way, stretched across the open expanse of the night sky like the wake of a boat, littered with millions and millions of specs of light in every direction. No picture would ever capture that moment. We even tried to take pictures of the night sky but to no avail. Those awesome scenery pics that you see on photographer sites are definitely shot by a professional. Why is the sky so much more beautiful here? I am looking at the same moon my family looks at back in RI. What changes when you stand at the foot of those majestic mountains?
For the sunsets, color is most distinguishing factor. Sunset is the point at which the sun is first completely below the horizon marking the start of twilight. During this time of the setting sun a ray of white sunlight travels through the atmosphere to an observer, some of the colors are scattered out of the beam by air molecules and airborne particles changing the final color of the beam the viewer sees. Because the shorter wavelength components, such as blue and green, scatter more strongly, these colors are preferentially removed from the beam. Colorado, due to its elevation is in essence a mile closer to the sun, higher in the atmosphere so there are less air particles floating up there to distort the color. The colors of the sky such as the bright blues and fiery sunsets are caused by a much clearer atmosphere.
The night sky is somewhat related but also different. Back in New England stars were pretty sparse and you were lucky if you ever saw more than a handful on any given night. I think that’s why the sight of a true night sky with millions of stars and the soring Milky Way made such an impression on me. The air pollution and light pollution of the east coast makes star gazing quite difficult. As you can see in the picture, light pollution is very prevalent there. Light pollution is the phenomena characterized by the illumination of the night sky by electriclights, as in urban areas, that interferes with astronomical observations and can have negative ecological effects. Due to the population saturation on the eastern side of the US, light pollution is impossible to escape. As you move west through the Midwest and towards California the lights secreting from the earth lessen and lessen. This decrease in light invading the night sky allows the stars to shine bright. The starlight does not compete with the photo pollution secreting from the land. Light pollution disrupts the ecosystem and even has negative health effects on people.
The sky tells us a lot about a place. I love my Colorado home for many reasons but the sky has become just one more thing I can say I appreciate more because I live here. There are lots of places I have been that have beautiful sky, forests, even beaches (people like to ask us if we miss the ocean now that we live in Colorado. I have the mountains. That’s all that needs to be said on that) but for me, this is home.