Stargazing in tranquil parts of Bay Area

Stars, moon, comets. Whenever I look up and gaze at the sky, I’m humbled by the vastness of the universe. I love that feeling of insignificance you get when you look up.

Although for some, thinking of our planet as a tiny, meaningless glimpse in the abyss of, well, mostly nothing (or as some also call it dark matter), may be depressing, I’m a sucker for it.

I just love it when the universe puts me in my place.

“Stop worrying about your stupid problems, Alex,” the sky whispers lovingly when I look up after an overwhelming day.

Credit: Christian Nielsen Photography

Ever since I was a kid, I loved everything about planets and stars and galaxies. I had this thick hardback general encyclopedia edition in my room in our tiny Moscow apartment in Russia. There were pages about biology, politics, global warming, sex… pretty much any topic a teenager without a connection to the Internet wanted to know more about. I scoured through most of the pages of that book, but I remember turning back to the pages with the colorful, fantastical depictions of the solar system and the surrounding majestic globes of hot gas. I became so obsessed I created my own map of the universe that consisted of nine sheets of paper taped together. I drew the sun and the other nine planets. (Yes, Pluto was a planet then. I’ll love you forever, Pluto.)

A montage of NASA’s images taken by the Voyager spacecraft of the solar system’s planets and four of Jupiter’s moons with Earth’s moon in the foreground.

Anyway, I’ve noticed that you can see the universe a lot better while being out here in the Bay Area. Maybe this is because I’ve been living in large, dense cities most of my life. But it’s pretty darn awesome that I can go out to my porch right now, gaze at the sky, and be able to clearly see the Pleiades star cluster. I don’t remember ever being able to see that cluster, which is near the constellation of Taurus, while I was in Chicago, and I was outside overnight most days my last two years there.

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert in astronomy or star constellations by any means. Like most people, I just recognize the most famous ones: the Big and Small dippers and the Orion.

I thought it was weird that I could see the stars so clearly. Before moving to the Silicon Valley area, for some reason, I imagined it to be a lot denser. You know that intro in the Silicon Valley show? Yeah, I blame my misconception on that.

A 2015 NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the Lagoon Nebula in the constellation of Sagittarius.

Actually, the Bay Area does boast a population of more than 7 million people. But aside from the dense San Francisco proper, which is only 7 by 7 miles in size, the entire Bay Area is pretty suburban and deathly quiet in some places, in my impression. My neighborhood in Mountain View is one of the deathly quiet. I live near a small park surrounded by mostly families with young children.

Interestingly, it turns out eastern United States is in fact a lot more polluted by lighting than the West is, according to this cool Science Advances article from June 2016 that maps light pollution across the world.

I call that a stargazing win.

What are some of your favorite places to gaze at the stars?

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