The Stars at Night

Deep in the heart of Texas’ hill country, the stars seem to shine brighter than they do in the cities because they aren’t competing with street lights, flood lights, stadium lights, and every flashing sign polluting the night skies.

When campers see the stars in the Frio Canyon, they, like the magi, rejoice with exceeding great joy. They puzzle over their place in the universe, the smallness of our planet, the smallness of our own bodies and the shortness of our lives.

But light pollution across the world means only two out of ten people on earth can see the Milky Way, according to the International Dark Sky Association.

So it’s a big deal when campers lying on their backs at Singing Hills Playfield look up and ask, “Is that the Milky Way? That fuzzy band of white?” It is. And camp leaders enjoy explaining what it means to be looking at one arm of our spiral galaxy—100 billion stars, circled by billions more planets, all of it 100,000 light years away.

“The night sky in the Canyon may provide the best view of the cosmos that many of our guests have ever seen,” says Kevin Wessels, associate director of property planning and stewardship for the H. E. Butt Foundation.

Kevin, who is leading the Foundation’s dark sky efforts, says the Canyon often has so many guests that its “population” is larger than most rural towns in America. He and Canyon Operations are working hard to preserve the dark sky for guests with a four-part plan to reduce light pollution: installing light shielding, lowering light temperatures, lowering light intensity, and setting timers that automatically turn the lights off each night.

Efforts like these ensure campers will continue to see in the Canyon sky a depth of stars like they never see at home.

The stars give us perspective of light years and cosmic expanse. They keep us wise, so we can remember to make our days count and worship something much larger than ourselves.

Dark Sky Facts

» 85% of people live in urban areas with light pollution that blocks the view of the stars.
» Nearly 1000 people stay in the Canyon when it is at capacity, more people than live in 42% of small towns in the US.
» Bright lights aren’t necessarily better for visibility at night because they can create glare that prevents us from seeing the depths of shadows.
» Much light pollution can be prevented with shielded fixtures that direct the light downward over the area that needs illumination.
» Only 2 out of 10 people on Earth can see the Milky Way.
» The Milky Way we can see is just one arm of our galaxy, containing 100 billion stars more than 100,000 light years away.

More from this issue

Someone Like Mike

Mike Brown runs a pizza shop while leading his kids and his community in building a better life.

Mental Health Ministers: Not in it Alone

H. E. Butt Foundation cohort aims to help San Antonio churches and church leaders break mental health stigmas.

Therapy Is a Camp Activity, Too

Hilary Monford has been partnering with Laity Lodge Family Camp to offer accessible counseling and therapy to families during a particularly difficult year.

Camp Docs Keep Campers Healthy

A lot has changed since Margo Pruitt first moved into the Canyon as the Echo Valley nurse in the summer of 1996.

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