Unit 6: “Dark Science” Reading Response

Get the discussion on this article started by posting your reading response here. Please remember that you will need to post your response and then read other students' responses and post  a reply.

In this essay, Omar Mouallem suggests that we're more likely to stare at the light in our hands than the light above. He says "It's easy to want to call the anti-light pollution activists Luddites and remind them of the incredible access we now have to outer space via our digital one."

Is technology merely a supplement, not a substitute, for the real thing? What do we lose when we lose the sky?

Write your Response in a comment to this page.

37 thoughts on “Unit 6: “Dark Science” Reading Response

  1. Olive Hager

    The internet is a great tool that can effectively replace the need for stargazing. There are plenty of feeds of telescopes you can tune into with views of the sky from practically anywhere in the world! They even have apps that can point that can point out and trace constellations for you! This makes stargazing accessible to anyone in any area of the world-even those overrun with light pollution.

    However, as an Alaskan, I’ve seen all kinds of artistic representations, pictures, and videos of the northern lights. While they’re beautiful and nostalgic when I’m away from home, you can’t really fathom how remarkably beautiful they can be in person. If I didn’t have access to areas mostly free of light pollution, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience them.

    But if I had never seen them to begin with, I wouldn’t really be losing anything. It’s up to each individual to weigh the pros and cons of city living, if they prefer convenience over views of the night sky. Personally, I like to get out into the wilderness, but it isn’t for everyone

    1. Christina Beaver

      I agree, although the pictures are stunning, there is nothing like seeing the northern lights in person.

      1. Olive Hager

        I agree with that for myself, but for some, like people who aren’t able-bodied or don’t like the outdoors, the internet provides a great alternative!

        1. Briana Shaffer

          I agree wholeheartedly. I hate the cold, ironically enough I love Fairbanks, so you wont find me outside at negative twenty for more than three minutes or without some mild complaining, The auroras are beautiful, but so is looking at pictures of them on my warm couch under an electric blanket.

    2. Jessica Hernandez

      I agree with your statements on how beautiful it is to see everything with the naked eye.

      You’re right, the wilderness is just not forever one. Thats why sometimes the advance technology can help other people see different parts of the world.

  2. Christina Beaver

    I think technology can be a supplement for the real thing but not all the time. As technology and cameras get better, the picture I try and take with my phone of the northern lights get better. Often better then what I can see with my naked eye, which can later inspire me into going or staying outside to watch the lights up above.

    Although technology is outstanding, there is something missing when you go outside and watch the stars vs. looking at a bright screen. When you are outside, there is a sense of serenity to it or calmness – something you can’t fully capture in a picture although we do live in Alaska where it’s too cold to be outside in the winter and too bright in the summer. It does make it a little more challenging for us, but that’s warm gear comes in handy.

    1. Victoria Murdock

      I agree with you about the calmness and serenity it provides us when we do decide to go out and stargaze. I also do think that we can enjoy it as much as we want too because we want to see it on a bright screen that provides us with every tiny detail.

  3. Amber Wofford

    I think there are great advancements being made that helps a person experience the world from the comfort of a screen wherever that may be. This is great for many many things but can never be replaced by simply going outside. No matter how many picture you see of the beauty that is Alaska, when you climb Angel Rocks or make your way to Horseshoe lake, seeing and experiencing it in person is always better. The feeling you get while looking at the northern lights along with the beautiful dancing colors is much more memorable than any picture of them, even the the pictures can be breathtaking. Screens have there place and there’s no getting rid of them as we head into the future with more advancements but I don’t believe it should replace anything.

    1. Conall Birkholz

      I agree with your stance on that screens while being useful are not a solve all to all human experiences. The serenity of being out in nature and experiencing things naturally and in person, with no technology involved definitely does induce a different experience and type of awe that you can’t get from seeing it on a screen.

    2. Briana Shaffer

      I have to agree with you that seeing horseshoe lake was 1000 times better in person than any camera could have captured. That being said, the mosquitoes eating me alive and a moose almost eating me on the way there make it unlikely id be able to walk my elderly grandma up to see it for herself. I’m sure shes had her days in her youth where she was able to see beautiful views of nature but this way, I can take a picture and describe to her what the experience was like and let her interpret it for herself.

  4. Conall Birkholz

    When thinking about astronomy and star gazing, how we learn about astronomy through the internet and our everyday devices is relevant. I think technology is a good addition in easily educating and helping people learn more about our universe and letting people know what does exist beyond our horizon. But as far as technology being a complete substitute for star gazing or night sky watching I think will never be possible. While technology is good from a general educational standpoint, the full realization and subconscious understanding that comes with sky gazing I think can only be experienced doing exactly that, star gazing. In Alaska seeing the stars is only possible in the winter as it does not get dark enough in the summer. But even in the dark and cold Alaskan winters I’ve always enjoyed star gazing for the brief amounts of time I could stand the cold. When I lived in New Zealand for 5 months on a study abroad, multiple times I went camping, and for the first time was I able to lay out under the night sky and fully experience hours of un-interrupted sky gazing. In those hours I spotted multiple satellites and shooting stars, and was able to take in the massive view of the full night sky of stars, and just that experience alone changed my whole outlook on our planet and the universe. This sub-conscious understanding of our insignificance if very real when you do star-gaze. While technology is good for education, it will never provide you with the real experience you get from experiencing the night sky with your own eyes. As Omar said in his article, technology is “a supplement, not a substitute, for the real thing”.

    1. Jesse Coulman

      Definitely agree, with our technological advancements we are able to witness and learn more of our world and beyond with the push of a button. We can see photos of planets and stars at the edge of our galaxy and beyond because of the exploration NASA has been doing. But without people standing outside staring up at the sky in awe of what was seen there would have been no drive to learn and explore the depths of space and we wouldn’t be where we are today.

  5. Jesse Coulman

    When talking about the sky, technology is a substitute. Through the use of social media or a simple google search you can find amazing pictures of many miraculous things happing in the sky like a meteor shower or the northern lights waving across the sky. But the photographs never do the scene justice. Growing up in Alaska I’ve been fortunate enough to live in an area without an over abundance of light pollution which has allowed me to witness many beautiful scenes played out in the sky. When I was 10 there I laid under the sky and watched a meteor shower with my family. It went on for hours, tiny balls of light streaking across the sky. The event helped put into perspective the massiveness of the universe and drove me to want to learn more about space and the world. A picture of the event would have been cool but I wouldn’t have been in awe, it wouldn’t have inspired me to learn. I think when we use technology as a substitute for the real thing we lose that. Its like seeing a photo of somewhere you’ve never been, it looks stunning but there is no connection. You don’t get to experience the culture or meet the people, we lose the desire to learn and our since of wonder.

  6. Jessica Hernandez

    With all the advance technology people tend to forget about looking to the sky and seeing what is right in front of you. With the advances people tend to rather look up pictures as a supplement then to looking into the sky. The pictures can show a beautiful resembles but when you look into the sky it will look a different with the naked eye. Even though with all the technological advances it never compares to laying under the stars and finding the constellations. When we lose the sky we lose creativity, we lose the idea of a “beautiful” view on life. With all the technology advances we also lose the desire to learn since “all” the answers are on the internet. Losing the sky can make it easy to forget why we are here.

  7. Victoria Murdock

    Growing up in a place where you have to travel a couple of miles to see stars and amazing things that go on in the sky, you become appreciative of what it offers you when you don’t have to travel. When it comes to our smartphones and computers, we try to replace the fact that we have natural lighting and can see phenomenons with our naked eye. Although, technology is a main source of seeing things and doing things we can’t forget to embrace what came first. The current generation is hindered by social media, and things that have to be done via smartphone or some type of device. Do they even know what its like playing outside in the summer nights ( lower 48 of course) catching lightning bugs, and playing hide and seek with natural lighting?

    1. Olive Hager

      Are you in Alaska now? I’m sure traveling to such a beautiful place would really help you appreciate the outdoors.

  8. Jerry Carroll

    For me, I don’t think that electronics and substitute for the real thing. There is just a different feeling that you have when you are actually there and seeing it for yourself. Like the northern lights for example, there are many great pictures of them, but to actually see them makes you feel a lot different.

  9. Travis Winterton

    I, personally am of the opinion of most pro-technology stances. I believe that technology is ultimately beneficial for society as a whole rather it being a detriment for us. Of course this is true as long as we don’t overly abuse this and that we take our time in adapting to new technologies. I think both astronomy and technology both share a strong relationship with each either, as demonstrated either the article, we see the benefits that technology as had in helping increase interest in astronomy and in this case star gazing. The internet has helped in revitalizing the interest in star-gazing though means of images and message boards acting as a recruitment are a few ways that technology has helped act a supplement.

    Depending on how it can be used, technology can act as an good second alternative supplement, especially for those that don’t have the ability to be able to see these views. This has and is still becoming more true as technology has advanced and continues to evolved. However supplements can only do so much when compared to the real thing. I believe one of the biggest reasons for this is feeling of insignificance that one will usually feel when seeing these comics events, that can’t compare to a small image. That feeling is perhaps the biggest thing that we will lose when we stop looking up at the sky, which is a feeling that is slowly starting to fade away as our world continues to be interconnected in more and different ways. Wither being able to see the stars again is important, I guess it depends on the person. A individual that hasn’t grown up with the views of the stars may have a less sentimental value towards it than a person who grew up in the country side that can see the stars.

  10. Rebekah Ulrich

    I personally agree that technology is a mere supplement rather than being substituted as the real thing. Although, technology has come a long way and made great strides in giving humanity the capabilities of seeing beyond what was ever thought possible. Omar Mouallem states in his article, “We crave instant gratification, so we’re more likely to stare at the light in our hands than the light in the sky.” Especially with our younger generation today, it is vital that we all come together to show the youth the hallmark of earths natural beauty. Being able to get that technological advancement right at our finger tips is a miraculous thing but it does not compare to the real thing. The northern lights come out frequently through the winter in Alaska and technology as far as it has come has given humanity the ability to capture its natural beauty. But it does not compare to the surreal enjoyment when actually experiencing it.

    1. Seth Packer

      100% agree yo. I could not tell you what the feeling is that’s missing when you see a picture of the night sky or the northern lights, but it’s definitely there when you see the real thing. Technology is great for so much and is getting better all the time, but there are just somethings that can’t be substituted for.

  11. Lane Ito

    Before I read Dark Science, I did not know there was such a thing as star parties, as in scientists gathering at observatories to witness the rims of the Milky Way Galaxy. I was also astounded to read about an old Native American story about heritage with the night sky. Additionally, the thought of sleep deprivation and reduction of melatonin was an extra shocker.

    “Plains Cree people formed a genesis story around a rupture in the sky, not unlike a wormhole, from which they arrived as spirits before transforming into mortal humans. According to aboriginal educator Wilfred Buck, Cree – “the star people,” as Buck calls them – have several names for the Milky Way: meskinow (path), sipi (river), and apchak sipi (spirit river). Like all ancient cultures, his ancestors designated the constellations’ names and mythologies in order to package the cosmos into a tidy tale. They were among the first amateur astronomers, a field that today is one of the few areas of interest wherein amateur isn’t a pejorative but a badge of honor (pgs. 125-126).”

    I have always been intrigued by stories from Native Americans and other ancient people, but I have not read any astronomy-related stories like the one in the passage. To hear that Cree people began as stardust and entered the world through a wormhole before taking the form of mortal beings was a very interesting way to begin heritage of the night sky. Also, the mention of wormholes has me wondering if there could be larger wormholes out in space connecting one point of the galaxy to another.

    “He’s particularly worried about blue light, the wavelength ironically emitting from the same anti-light-pollution LED bulbs that cities are adopting en masse, as well as whatever you’re probably using to read this. During the day, blue light boosts moods and reaction times, but too much of it after sundown can reduce your melatonin, a hormone that sets your internal clock and may be responsible for the aforementioned health problems. As if it wasn’t enough that starring into my smartphone for hours every night was distracting me from the night sky, it was now trying to kill me. I suppose I could invest in orange-tinted, Bonoesque glasses that block blue light, like Alister Ling recommended. He also bought a pair for his teenage daughter, but she refuses to wear them. “She’s too headstrong for my advice,” he told me. “I don’t get it.” (pg. 129)”

    This passage had my thoughts working overtime. It was hard to believe that blue light can be emitted from whatever sources of artificial light are available to use, even if it is just a simple flashlight. I had also never heard of melatonin before I read this passage, or how the amounts of the hormone fall with exposure to blue light, causing sleep deprivation and other health problems. I can relate to having this issue because lately I have been staying up past midnight and end up oversleeping as a result. Finally, I was aware of orange-tinted light on phones, which activate when the “bedtime” feature is turned on, and I understand the use it serves with allowing the user to get to sleep on time.

    From reading Dark Science, I never would have thought viewing the rims of the Milky Way galaxy was a thing among astronomers, or how people could be giving themselves health disorders from looking at their smartphones too long. However, city people have become so reliant on blue light that when a power outage happens, they will be completely lost and not consider using the stars or the rim of the galaxy for navigation. But where I live, viewing the edges of the galaxy is a rare sight. Maybe if more images of the galaxy were posted on smartphones, everyone can look at the night sky as the Cree people did centuries ago.

  12. Ashley Bolyard

    Technology is a wonderful supplement that is resourceful. Today, if one wants to see what the northern lights looks like, one can pull it up on their phone. Although, as living in Alaska, pictures are beautiful, but there is no competition to seeing them in person; it is a grounding experience makes one realize the universe is such a big place, live in the moment and breath. That experience is something that technology cannot substitute. The best that technology can do to be remotely close to that feeling is to remind one of that moment via picture or social media.

    When one loses the sky, one loses adventure, curiosity, and a sense of feeling grounded. Yes, with all of the technologic advancements it sometimes needed to be reminded to look up an breath. As I grow older, my best memories are when I am not connected to technology out. I feel the reason for this is because I get to focus on the present instead of technology. Although that works for my situation, it may not be an option for another.

    That is when technology can benefit and be supplemental. Recently, with the advancement of virtual reality, museums are utilizing technology. I find this as a fantastic opportunity for people to experience them if they that are unable to visit due to their circumstance.

    1. Shurena K


      I feel like you hit this head on. When we lose our sense of adventure, we stop appreciating the beauty that surrounds us. This last year was the first time seeing the northern lights in person and it was such an amazing experience. The pictures I took didn’t even do it justice.

  13. Lindsey Paulsen

    Astronomy would not have come as far as it has without the availability and functionality of the Internet, and obviously without technology in general. Stargazing was what initially inspired wonder in mankind, and has brought us many revelations and to countless deep explorations. When I think of technology being a substitute for astronomy, I disagree. I entirely believe, as Omar stated, that technology is “a supplement, not a substitute, for the real thing”.
    Without computers, it is blatant that organizations such as NASA, or any space exploration organization in the world, just simply would not be. Technology is the whole point of these institutions. We would never have travelled to the moon, send out rovers and satellites, or even build a simple telescope. These points are undoubted, but learning on ones own still has to begin with a thought developed by seeing or feeling something we cannot explain without further dissection, and what would be the point of a rocket if we could not see and evaluate on our own.
    Technology has done more than just advance education, but it has made certain discoveries that were impossible to find with a pen and paper, possible. Yet, if you cannot see or feel it, it becomes less possible to ponder it if we do not know that it is there. Then again, without technology we would not know the hard facts (the earth being round, lack of oxygen in space, etc.). I took a detailed astronomy course in previous educational settings, and technology was crucial, but still optional. We went on many stargazing field trips where we brainstormed questions about what we were seeing. We only used technology afterward to improve what we knew only by using our physical senses. To conclude, we would have never tried to explore space and its physics if we could not see it in the first place. Technology like telescopes and the Internet just improve our abilities to discover what we have already been introduced to. Our senses and brains are the real computers.

  14. Shurena K

    Today’s society is a society of technology, while technology should be considered a supplement in many places it’s become a substitute. I appreciate the fact that the internet can do so many things and the advances that the internet has afforded us. I have worked in healthcare 15 years and I have seen first hand the technological advances from access to patient care services to medical record systems, but I find myself at the end of the day putting away the phones and computers once I leave work. Now this is going to date me, but I grew up in the era before internet so maybe my issue is the loss of feeling connected and nostalgia towards the simple things in life.Growing up my parents had 7 acres out in the country, where it was five miles to the closest gas station. I remember the nights of laying in my hammock staring at the sky, hoping to see a shooting star or a new to me constellations. Being out there at night with the lightning bugs and my pups was peaceful and awoke a sense of curiosity. For me it was peace not found within the large cities, and to this day when I visit home, I will sit on the porch swing just staring up at the sky.

    My job has allowed me to travel the world over the years and here in Alaska it has been a once in a lifetime experience. Although it will not be our final destination, my hope is that everyone at least once in their lives puts the phones and cameras down and appreciates the beauty of things like the Northern Lights in person and not thru a lens or a computer screen.

  15. Briana Shaffer

    I think the last paragraph of Omar Mouallem’s essay “Dark Science” really sums up my opinion.
    The Colonel smiled with a smugness that only someone who’s space-walked could possess. “Not much,” he said, “because I’ve seen the whole world. Everyone who writes about overcrowding lives in a city. It’s quite comical. But most of the world is empty. And most of it is dark at night.”

    All it really takes is a couple minute drive at night to somewhere isolated and dark to enjoy what the night sky has to offer. If you don’t feel like driving, or flying thousands of miles to see something in the sky,that is where technology comes in. There are so many options to experience and explore the sky in the palm of your hands. From virtual reality to a 360 image, you really don’t need to leave your house. A few weeks ago when the super blood full moon eclipse or whatever was visible in the Fairbanks sky, I didn’t bother to go outside in the cold from the comfort of my warm blankets and sleeping baby. The images were on social media within minutes of the event in better quality, clarity and zoom than my eyesight could have provided. Sometimes the auroras dance in the sky above our cabin and my husband and I will sit on the steps with a blanket and tea and just enjoy the moment. I almost associate the act of sitting under the sky with observant eyes as an emotional thing. Technology, cameras and telescope aided images will always give you more detail and clarity, but the act of being present in the moment is what makes you feel small and human. I think that is what we lose if we lose when we lose the sky.

    One of the things I found very interesting in the essay was the part about how night time light pollution might be affecting wildlife. We have to turn off our fish tank lights after 8 hours or it stresses the fish. I definitely agree that light may have some kind of affect on animals. I just don’t know if I believe the whole idea of light making girls go into puberty earlier. Especially if the person arguing it believes you can protect yourself with orange lens glasses. Do blind women go into puberty earlier too?

  16. Makayla Duhon

    Living in Alaska has definitely made me appreciate the night sky. Before I moved here, I lived in a big city and I never really experienced the stars. Now, I can go outside and point out the Big and Little Dipper, Orion, Venus, and of course the Northern Lights. But, if I didn’t have my phone with me, I would never have known the names of some of the less popular stars and constellations. With a helpful app, I can point my phone to the sky and see the names of everything out there. But I can enjoy the night sky just the same without knowing all the names.
    I do believe that technology is a supplement. Sometimes I wish that electronics didn’t exist so that I could spend more time outside or reading although, I try to stay away from it as much as possible. I don’t think technology will be able to take over the feeling of experiencing something in person though. No matter how well they create VR or whatever crazy tech is coming next, it just won’t be the same.

  17. Seth Packer

    As someone who is awestruck every time I see the stars, or if I get really lucky the aurora, I think Mouallem is being a wee bit dramatic here. It sounds as if the data is showing a correlation between light levels and natural phenomenon, and we all know that correlation does not equal causation. With that said, I pity the adult or child that has never seen the night sky with out obstruction, it is truly a sight to behold and should be protected as out national parks are protected. Seeing the night sky in a photo online can be incredible, but it just doesn’t compare with seeing it yourself. Technology is great and it’s a good supplement for those that want to view the night sky. Technology will never be able to replicate or replace it however, it could just be me, but their is just something a”je ne sais quoi” about seeing it in person.

  18. Logan Borger

    Technology, as of right now, is merely a supplement. It allows for urban populations to be able to to witness natural phenomenon. People who look at pictures typically don’t think that they are experiencing the phenomenon to their full extent and hopefully are inspired to see the actual thing.
    Perhaps in the future, with the growth of virtual reality, technology may overtake reality on the scale of people that it reaches. But I’m not sure that it will ever be able to overtake actual nature. If we have lose our ability to be in awe of nature, then we have lost more than just merely the sky.

    1. Miranda Jackovich

      I thought you having a positive stand point on technology is refreshing. Do you think that technology is the cause of people not experiencing the sky fully? I agree that technology such as virtual reality can be very realistic, but I don’t believe it could ever replace the ‘ahh’ factor from the real thing. We have come no where close to experiencing the universe we are in, and a VR head set could never compare. Great ideas!

  19. Miranda Jackovich

    Technology has been apart of human evolution for the last 10,000 years, the sky has surpassed that by millions. Before we became this advanced, people have depended on the sky to navigate the planet. Now the sky has been masked by the output of the technological advances created. Modern day humans have become less mesmerized with the sky, and more with their phones. We rely so heavily on them to tell us where we are, and where to go. Currently with the magnetic poles shifting it has tampered with our navigation systems. If something were to happen, such as being stranded in the forest or at sea and the sky isn’t visible you could easily lose your way. Mouallem brings up an event that made many people interested in the sky. “During the 1994 Los Angeles earthquakes and subsequent blackout, a nearby observatory was flooded with calls from Angelenos reporting an ominous bright streak looming above. They wondered if the celestial shape was responsible for whatever shook them awake. It was the Milky Way, of course,” (Mouallem 125) Events like these really put in perspective how technology has impacted our relationship with the sky. We are literally disconnecting ourselves from the universe, which we are but a grain of sand in that is in a desert.

  20. Daniel Allred

    In the essay “Dark Science” the author, Omar Mouallem, suggests that we’re more likely to stare at the light in our hands than the light above. Technology has come so far, “there is an app for that” seems to be the new theme for any problem you might have. What happens when we stop looking to world for answers and rely solely on the devices we have to experience everything around us?

    Smartphones have helped propel the world into a new age of laziness. No longer do we have to remember information that is presented to us. If a question arises that we’d like to know the answer to one need look no further than their fingertips, where Mr. Google is always ready to help out. I too am one of these people and when it comes to the science of the sky I am just as guilty as everyone Mouallem talks about in this essay.

    On a number of occasions I have wondered what star it was that I was seeing, while out camping. Like everyone else these days, I reached for my trusty iPhone and downloaded “GoogleSky”. I was amazed by the information that it displayed. However, I spent most of those nights still looking at my phone and not actually looking at the sky that I was so amazed with.

    While technology is easy to use a substitute it is important to remember that it is merely a supplement. If there was never anyone looking at the actual sky there wouldn’t exist a technology to do it for us. Looking outside of what is known and exploring the unknown can only be accomplished when we turn our full attention to things.
    If we were to lose the sky then humans and animals would likely adjust. Though, who’s to say how long it would take and what parts of us we’d be giving up to make the change. It is important for people to remember that technology exist because of physical observation and therefore can never be a substitute, merely a supplement.

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