Fake stars are better than no stars

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Monday, February 01, 2010

With this giant disco ball suspended 50 meters above Paris, the city got to appreciate once again what a starry night might look and feel like. Michel de Broin photo
Or, in French, Aimez-vous les étoiles?

As many of you probably know already, the Moon was full and extraordinarily bright Friday because it was at perigee, the closest it gets to Earth. Likewise, Mars was unusually bright because it, too, was at its closest point to us, called opposition (because it’s directly opposite the Sun in our sky). The Full Moon should make it through even the densest light pollution, but the Red Planet and its twinkling companions may not in some of the brightest areas. Maybe, then, more cities should follow Paris’ example.

No, the City of Lights didn’t pass any laws to reduce its light pollution, and it didn’t mandate the replacement of inefficient lamps or lanterns. Instead, for one night in January, it made its own starlight. Better than nothing, I guess.

Conceptual artist Michel de Broin created the world’s biggest disco ball to hang over the city and dazzle its denizens with the shimmering speckles of light it reflected. More than 24.5 feet (7.5 meters) large, and replete with 1,000 mirrors, the ball hung from a crane 164 feet (50m) in the air above Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg. By all accounts it worked out well, and the pictures do look pretty; I sure wish I could’ve been there.

But it also makes me a little sad. This could very well be a glimpse of the future, with stars only “remembered” via artificial means. I mean, do people who grow up and live in big cities even know what they’re missing out on, not ever getting to see the naturally starry night? (And I say this as someone who grew up in medium-sized cities and who’s never seen the Milky Way — but who would love to change that.)

So what do you think of the biggest disco ball ever: nifty solution to a problem, or harbinger of things to come? Either way, don’t forget to go out and enjoy whatever the sky has to offer you, wherever you are.

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