In a book that I read recently (either The Cloud Roads or The Serpent Sea— I finished the first and immediately started the second), as some characters are traveling from one place to another, there’s a passing mention that they weren’t able to hunt at night because the moon wasn’t out and it was too dark. Which sort of bugged me, and I was reminded of it tonight when I took Emmy out for our post-dinner walk– it’s very clear tonight, and a lot of stars were visible, even here in the light-polluted suburbs, but the moon wasn’t up yet.

And the thing is, while it’s darker when the moon isn’t out, it’s not really too dark to see, because there are a whole lot of stars. This isn’t that obvious if you live in a built-up area, but one time we went on a fishing trip up in the mountains in New Mexico, and it was really amazing just how bright the stars can be, if you’re in a place with no clouds and no light pollution. A couple of times, I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (also, because the air mattress we were using had a leak, and would slowly deflate), and you really didn’t need a flashlight– just the stars provided plenty of light to see by.

Of course, if there’s thick cloud cover and no moon, and you’re out in the middle of nowhere, it really is alarmingly difficult to see anything. But that’s a function of the overcast skies, not the absence of the moon per se.

I don’t have a larger point to make here– this is mostly to fill time while SteelyKid watches one more episode of Animaniacs before bedtime. But it’s something that bugged me, and probably not all that many other people. This is the price of geekdom.


  1. #1 Kate Nepveu
    February 9, 2012

    Have we any idea what the visible stars are like there, as the books do not take place on Earth?

  2. #2 Neil Bates
    February 9, 2012

    I read that the skies in the best parts of the Canary Islands (site of many high-tech observatories) are so clear and dark, the stars cast shadows (together at least, of some kind.) I got to see the night sky from near Fort Huachuca Az. and it was amazing – I could see nebula & galaxies with naked eye, and really good stuff with 12x binoculars, even some minor satellites while scanning. But even so, I’d rather hunt by moonlight, considering the risks.

  3. #3 mark clavelle
    February 10, 2012

    When I visited my parents farm,I can tell you that it is frightful to go out at all without the moon reflecting light brightly. The stars do not give much light on the ground, and I can tell you that I will not go past the extent of the where my porch light reaches. To me the author is quite accurate, you can get ambushed too easily. Yes, Virginia, there are still wolves and other predators out there in the wilderness. :)

  4. #4 Lyle
    February 10, 2012

    Note that the big bend region of Tx (ranging north to the McDonald observatory) has been declared an International Dark Sky Park. Partly this is because its near the McDonald Observatory and therefore important to Alpine and Marfa and Van Horn, and since these are the nearest towns, it works, with Big Bend having the darkest skies in the lower 48.

  5. #5 Robert Sharp
    February 10, 2012

    This makes me think of Asimov’s Nightfall, where the light of the stars suddenly being the only light in the world was enough to drive people crazy.

  6. #6 JoeB
    February 10, 2012

    Before I actually stopped to think about it, I used to believe that there was no full moon during the the Arctic night.

  7. #7 Eric Lund
    February 10, 2012

    Terrain is also a factor. If you are dealing with plains or frozen tundra, you could probably hunt by starlight if needed. If you are in a forested or mountainous region, it’s much riskier because the trees or mountains might be concealing some pothole or cliff, as well as the predators Mark@3 mentioned. Since I’m not familiar with the books in question, I don’t know what kind of terrain the party was traversing.

  8. #8 Eric
    February 10, 2012

    Off topic. Where are you finding episodes of Animaniacs? Do you have them on DVD or are we talking streaming from somewhere?

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