When we first moved to Los Angeles, we never saw any stars. We saw some celebrities, but I’m not talking about that kind of star.
Los Angeles is one of the world’s great cities, and great cities have great lights. The lights of Los Angeles are beautiful; I love flying back here in the evening because as the plane descends, I descend with it into the endlessness of light.
We live in the shadow of the iconic Griffith Observatory. Sitting atop the Hollywood Hills, the concrete structure is brightly lit at night and, from it, you can see our giant of a city and her magnificent lights sprawling as far as the ocean to the west and as far as you can see to the east and south.
But lights cause luminous pollution – the fancy word used to described the effect of non-natural light on our ability to see natural light. Bright city lights do not diminish the natural light of a Red Giant or the flash of a meteor; bright city lights diminish our ability to correctly perceive that natural light. The lights of a city, in a sense, distract us from the lights of the universe.
Human eyes are amazing. As an environment darkens or brightens and our eyes’ rods and cones adjust, what our eyes see as “black” changes, recalibrating to the ‘new normal’ of our ambient surroundings.
It takes between twenty and thirty minutes for eyes to fully adjust to darkness. Each minute we wait, we can see exponentially more as we give our eyes more time to calibrate to the lights shining amidst the darkness. In darkness as opposed to sunlit conditions, the human eye is up to one million times more sensitive to light.
When we first moved to Los Angeles, the city lights were too bright, and we never saw any stars.
We are approaching the eight-year anniversary of our move to Los Angeles. Last week, I was outside in the evening with Everett. He pointed up and, in sleepy-eyed wonder, exclaimed “Dada…stars!”
Sure enough, I looked up and two bright stars twinkled overhead. He and I spent more time gazing into the luminously-polluted skies high above our home in northeast Los Angeles and, gradually, our eyes adjusted to the reality of the universe blanketing us in light-amidst-darkness.
There are stars in Los Angeles.
To see many of them it’s taken eight years of slow adjustment. But they have been there the whole time, and they will continue to shine once we are gone.