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Desert Diary


Thanks to dry air and expansive views of the heavens, Southwestern desert skies come alive with stars at night, once away from the light pollution of towns and cities. Now, poets and other romantics tend to get carried away with things, and a sky sparkling with stars tends to bring out the best (or maybe the worse) in them. Can't you just hear them proclaiming millions of gems gleaming in velvet skies?

But what about it? Are you really seeing millions of stars? Not if you're meaning discrete points of lights. Would you believe more like about 2,500 of them visible to the naked eye at any one time? And that's out of a total of less than 8,500 bright enough to be seen by the average person. So why only 25 hundred at a time? Some, from any one point on earth, are permanently hidden beneath the horizon; others would be visible only if you could put out the sun. Nevertheless, "Oh look, honey, at the two-and-a-half thousand stars" just doesn't seem have the same panache as "millions"!
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

image of stars

A small segment of the skies. Image courtesy of NASA.