Have you seen the greatest show on earth? It boggles the mind and will leave you in awe. You won’t see this show in any theater, on any TV, or in any arena. It’s a show that has taken billions of years to produce. It will send you through time, and take your imagination to amazing heights. It’s a show that is free to us all, yet most of us don’t take the time to tune in. It’s a huge part of us, and yet we neglect it more and more every passing day. This amazing show is the night sky, and it’s more important to you and your child’s health than you think.
Every clear night, not too long after the sun sets, we are all offered front row seats to the wondrous spectacle that is our universe. Humankind has tuned in to this show for as long as we have existed. It’s been the source of legends and myths. It has inspired some of the most breathtaking works of art ever created. It was an instrumental tool in helping us navigate the seas and explore our own planet. It was the subject of our earliest forms of science and philosophy. It has been the launching pad of dreams. And it continues to provide perspective on humanity and our place in the universe.
So, why don’t we look up at the night sky anymore? What happened to the stars? There are a few reasons we don’t tune in like we used to. First, we are so distracted by TV shows, movies, video games, sports, and other kinds of manmade entertainment that we rarely take the time to go outside and look up. We are so bombarded by fast-paced special effects and 10-second trending video clips that something like the night sky seems boring. Second, light pollution. We simply can’t see the stars, even if we do take the time to look up. In many large cities you can only see about a dozen stars in the sky due to the pollution created by the city lights. Two-thirds of the global population suffers from light pollution. Third, we live in a bubble – the “me” bubble. If I don’t get Johnny to soccer practice, do the laundry, make dinner, get to work on time, pay this bill, then my bubble could burst. We are so wrapped up in our own little universe that we forget to look up at the actual universe.
How does all of this affect your child’s health? Light pollution (one of the major reasons we don’t see stars) does more damage than you think. Naturally, at night, we should see pitch darkness highlighted by the dim light of the moon and stars. Instead, most of us are surrounded by bright electric lights the minute the sun sets. Studies show that nighttime light can disrupt circadian rhythms, which can be a contributing factor to depression, insomnia, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
A more direct health concern for your child (and you) associated with not seeing the stars is the unnecessary stress that comes from a lack of perspective. When you look up at the stars you realize how insignificant some of the things that we stress about are. Billions of stars separated by billions of miles. This vast expanse and I exist in a tiny corner of an even more expansive universe. So, maybe the F on my History test or the strikeout in my championship baseball game isn’t that big of a deal. Do not underestimate the power of stress. It can have as large an impact on health as diet and exercise.
Negative stress is a major contributing factor to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure and can lead to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, sleep problems, and weight gain, as well as memory and concentration impairment. Reducing these unnecessary stressors from your child’s life now will have a huge impact on their overall health later in life. An easy way to reduce some stress is to expose your child to things such as nature and the stars.
A fun way to get the family out there and excited about the night sky is to make a night of it! On the next clear night, turn off the TV, the video games, and your mobile devices. If you live away from city light, turn off all the lights in your house and go out in your yard. If you live in the city, pile into the car, and drive an hour or so out into the country. Lay down a blanket and tune in.
At first, simply lie there and take it all in. Then, if you’d like, start exploring together. Locate Orion’s Belt in the sky, and tell your child the story behind the Orion constellation. In Greek mythology, Orion was the greatest hunter in the world, but his ego led him to boast that he could best any wild animal. Only to have a single sting from a tiny scorpion kill him. This might lead you to search for the Scorpius (Scorpio) constellation together. You can search for other constellations, or create your own constellations and make up your own stories. As you gaze at the stars, sharing stories and creating your own myths, you and your child will join the great philosophers, storytellers, dreamers, artists, scientists, and earliest humans who came before you.
Seeing the stars in the sky allows you to better understand your place in the universe and this place we call home. Earth is just one planet in the Milky Way. There are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and there are 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. That’s hundreds of billions. To put it in perspective – there are roughly 7 billion people on earth. Looking up at the stars reminds us that we are on this tiny rock floating in space, with all these other people, and we’re all doing the best we can. No matter how bad things may get, you are not alone. You are among the stars.
So, what happened to the stars? They’re there – waiting for you to see them.