Unexpected astronomy

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Thursday, January 05, 2012

Whenever New Year’s Day comes and goes, many publications will take the time to look back and list some of the top things (people, photos, stories) of the previous year. (And of course, we’re no exception.) When lexicographer Grant Barrett compiled a list of 2011’s catchwords for The New York Times, I expected (and got) political and pop cultural entries.

The English Channel Island of Sark became an official dark-sky site in 2011, helping propel “Dark Sky” as one of the most important phrases of the year. // Photo by Phillip Capper
But, nestled in among words like Kardash (“A unit of time measuring 72 days”) and Super Committee (“A group of 12 lawmakers … that tried to make a plan on how to reduce the deficit”), was a familiar old term: Dark Sky. Barrett says it “designates a place free of nighttime light pollution. For example, the island of Sark in the English Channel is a dark-sky island.” So pretty much the accepted definition, I thought to myself.

Still, it’s exciting to see an astronomical concept pointed out as an important remnant of 2011’s language. It may not be a huge deal, but it’s always nice to see our favorite science (and particularly the touchy subject of light pollution) get some time in the spotlight. With any luck, it’ll remain an issue that even non-astronomers care about. Though, even I’ll admit, perhaps not as fervently as other items on Barrett’s list.

What words from 2011 do you think will stick with us? Do you think “Dark Sky” deserves its place in Barrett’s pantheon? Let me know in the comments section below.

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