The winter constellations of Orion, Canis Major and Taurus display an ocean of stars when viewed from Semnan, Iran.
What if no one had ever witnessed the beauty of a dark night sky? The ancient light of distant stars inspired Middle Eastern art, mythology and science. While Medieval European leaders shunned astronomical observances which challenged our place in the universe, Middle Eastern civilizations embraced the night sky. It told them when they should plant, when they should harvest and when they should pray. It was nature’s calendar and clock.
When the ancient Egyptians saw Sirius rise with the sun, they knew the Nile would soon overflow its banks at Memphis. Egyptian builders aligned the great pyramids at Giza with the three bright stars in Orion’s belt.
Aldebaran, Algor, Altair, Betelgeuse, Mizar and many more of the brightest stars in the sky bear Arabic names. The stars tested our vision and gave us something to strive for.
Here you see the same winter constellations, this time the lights of Dubai blot out all but the brightest stars. The same constellations as the Semnan Iran photo above. Only the moon and a few stars are visible over Dubai’s glare.
But even as our civilization reaches for the stars, we are becoming increasingly detached from the night sky. International organizations are considering whether to disconnect human time from the stars. Christian Easter, Jewish Passover and the Muslim calendar maintain alignment with the phases of the moon, but will it soon be impossible to see the new moon in the glare of cities such as Dubai, which some astronomers consider to be the most light-polluted city on earth?
See NASA’s light pollution of the Middle East:
This video above taken from the International Space Station shows the extent of the light pollution problem across the Middle East. All of the lights in this video represent wasted energy. Millions of barrels of oil are burned to generate electricity to power lights whose energy escapes into outer space. In a bold attempt to glorify ourselves and our cities, we’re washing out the gift of the night sky. Human insecurity also contributes to light pollution. This ranges from misdirected home security lights to India’s terrible plan to illuminate 1248 miles of the India-Pakistan border with floodlights.
The first step in in solving the problem of light pollution in the Middle East is to recognize that it is a problem. Dubai’s Environmental Protection and Safety Section released a report indicating that light pollution is a problem.
Imagine if One Thousand and One Arabian Nights had ended on the third page with king Shahryar telling Scheherazade:
“The sun has risen. I must fulfill my oath and execute my wife before she betrays me.”
And Schedherazade replies with her final words, “But master, that is not the sunrise. It is merely the lights of a new shopping center.”
Photos by Babak Tafreshi via TWAN