I grew up in Manhattan, probably the city with the most light pollution in the world. That meant that, as a kid, the only way I got to experience space was through textbooks or the planetarium. Sure, we left the city for camping trips here and there, but the main focus of those trips was to learn how to cope with nature, not space. By the time stars were visible it was past our bedtime anyways. When I finally did get a chance to see stars, they were few and scattered throughout the sky and never really left a lasting impression on me.

The first time I really got to experience a true night sky was when I was in my 20ies (I know, embarrassing). My friends and I went on a camping trip to the Dead Sea in Israel to watch a major meteor shower that was happening at the time. It was absolutely stunning, but what really blew my mind was the fact that I could see the Milky Way with my bare eyes. Viewing it changed my life. All of a sudden everything became real to me, not just theories or concepts. Finally I saw the Milky Way from my point of view, it wasn’t an illustration in a textbook with an outside perspective. It was the closest thing to a spiritual experience I’ve ever had.  

It made me also think about how inner city kids might think of their place in the universe. It’s hard to really grasp our place if our skies are cloaked by city light pollution. Planetariums are amazing, but they cannot replace the experience of actually seeing the majestic Milky Way right above our heads. I wonder how their lives would change if they were to actually experience it.

The Weather Channel recently published an article highlighting photographer Nicholas Buer’s work. This threw me back to that night at the Dead Sea with my friends.

There’s nothing like experiencing space first hand. While Beur’s images don’t replace the real thing, they at least capture the Milky Way in it’s purest form.

Image credit: Nicholas Buer