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What Orion looks like as you get farther away from light pollution

What the constellation looks like in the darkest of places vs in cities.

Sriram Murali
Brian Resnick is Vox’s science and health editor, and is the co-creator of Unexplainable, Vox's podcast about unanswered questions in science. Previously, Brian was a reporter at Vox and at National Journal.

Eighty percent of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way where they live.

Filmmaker Sriram Murali is here to show them what they’re missing.

In the following video — which you should do yourself a favor and watch in full screen — Murali shows us what the constellation Orion looks like in several locations, each one farther and farther away from light pollution. In the first two, San Francisco and Palo Alto, California, you can just faintly see Orion because it’s washed out by light pollution. By the time you get to the last location, Goblin Valley State Park in Utah, Orion is lost again — but because there are just so many other stars to look at!

The video is the second in a series on light pollution from Murali. In the first, he focused on images of the Milky Way. This one zeroes in on the constellation Orion because it tends to be recognizable even to people who live in cities. “Most people haven’t seen [the Milky Way],” he writes in an email. “But, the Orion is a more common sight.”

Murali created the video out of a series of still-frame images he animated into a time lapse. That’s why you see the light of planes and perhaps a few shooting star whiz across the frame.

Murali works on these videos in his spare time. “The most difficult part is actually getting to those places,” he says. “My wife and I travel a lot to National Parks for this. I do more planning than anything else.”

Below, you can see the progression of the stars in and around Orion as light pollution dissipates. The top location in the image is San Fransisco. The second is Palo Alto. From there it’s Foster City, California; Monte Bello Open Space Preserve in California; Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California; Arches National Park in Utah, Canyonlands National Park in Utah; and finally Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.

Sriram Murali

“Being under a sky full of stars makes you feel tiny, humble, kind and caring,” Murali writes. “But, thanks to light pollution, most people lack this connection.”

Light pollution, as Vox’s Brad Plumer writes, is not just impacting our sense of wonder. There’s also evidence it alters our daily circadian rhythms, making it harder to sleep. It’s disruptive to wildlife too.

This video won’t solve those problems. But it may inspire you to get out there and experience the night sky for yourself.

Read more on light pollution:

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