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Space: The fading frontier that's just a look away
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I turned my power boat due west after clearing the Ft. Myers channel markers.

We headed out into the dead calm Gulf of Mexico.

The late afternoon sun glared straight into our faces as we skimmed across the saltwater.

My goal was to take my friends out far enough so they could witness the "Green Flash."

The only time you can see this natural phenomenon is at the exact moment the sun sets. I had witnessed it a number of times both offshore and in high deserts around the world. The interface between the sky and the earth had to be as crisp as possible or you would not see the sudden final flash of green light as the sun set for the day.

I cleared the shallow Gulf waters and as twilight overcame the Florida coast we pulled up to drift on the currents awaiting the last rays of the sun.

We were alone on the flat water, but Mother Nature was not going to allow us to witness the Green Flash.

In the final moments a distal thunder cloud blocked the horizon. No Green Flash.

What did emerge was a breathtaking sunset around and above the white and grey clouds. Rays of light cut across the pale turquoise and pink sky in a sight that was not lost on my guests.

As the darkness descended I turned the boat eastward and motored back toward the coast. It was then that my guests got a treat they could not have possibly imagined.

The dark moonless night opened up the sky above with thousands upon thousands of stars. The sky was covered with a shower of meteorites while planets brightly arced across the night. Even vestiges of the Milky Way were offered up for our viewing. My guests were spell bound. They had never witnessed space in real life.

Our night sky has become polluted with man-made light.

While this might be good for night time movement and apparent security what all this light does is blind out the night sky that Mother Nature as provided us for millennia.

Even in Dawson County there is so much ground light that only the brightest of the evening planets and stars can be seen anymore. The space in which our blue planet floats seems dark and lonely instead of a placed dotted with millions of stars and galaxies turning above our heads.

In the last few months a great many accomplishments have been made in the exploration of outer space.

Images of visits to other planets and comets have been placed before an ever more disinterested public. The vast majority of people have no desire to see space or a passion to learn how our earth fits into the greater context of this universe.

I think some of the reason for that lack of interest is the fact that most of us can no longer see the night sky in all its glory. The Milky Way is invisible to most. The distal galaxies and the thousands of solar systems that make up our greater neighborhood can no longer be seen.

Space, the final frontier - has faded from our eyes.

For us out on the boat that night the universe opened in all of its grandeur. The beauty of space was beyond description. Its vastness made each of us feel tiny yet still very special.

We were actually part of this spectacular universe. We had front row seats to the greatest show imaginable.

As the glow of the Florida coast appeared again on the horizon and we moved steadily back into the man-made world, space grew dimmer above our heads.

By the time we tied up at the dock the universe had disappeared. None of us would ever forget that night. We had been part of the swirling galaxies, the planets, their moons and our spectacular Milky Way. For us space had not faded away.

It is still out there for all to see. You just have to turn off the lights and look upward.

 

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