Telescopes dot the cloudless top of the dry volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii, Earth’s tallest mountain from its underwater base to its peak. Its night skies, free of artificial light, are a resource disappearing across the planet in the face of light pollution.
This new video comes as part of the SKYGLOW project, which seeks to capture footage of some of North America’s remaining dark sky locations. These are places whose skies haven’t been washed out by light from human activity, where you still see the stars or the glow of the Milky Way galaxy.
Around 80 percent of the world lives in a place with some sort of sky glow, according to the International Dark Sky Association. This brightening of the night sky comes from light sources like street lamps beamed straight up or reflected off the ground. Not only is artificial light wasting energy and obscuring our appreciation of the night sky, it might have effects on the sleep schedules and behaviors of nocturnal wildlife. The SKYGLOW team put together a book and are working on the video series documenting what dark skies North America has left.
Mauna Kea’s peak features some of the most pristine skies on Earth, which makes it important for astronomers—the isolation and dry air prevents interference and allows the telescopes to take crisp pictures. Local laws also keep light pollution at bay, according to the University of Hawaii. One of the mountain’s telescopes even joined the recent world-wide attempt to snap a picture of the black hole at the center of our galaxy, a photo we may see by the end of the year.
But Mauna Kea takes on another dimension when it comes to human interference. The site is sacred ground to native Hawaiians, which has led to clashes between protesting locals and scientists hoping to take advantage of the mountaintop to build the bigger and better stargazing instruments, like the upcoming Thirty Meter Telescope.
Controversies aside, the video is cool as hell.