On the day after the stars came out for the Oscars, a TPL staff member reflects
on indoor star gazing in Griffith Park.
Everything I know about the night sky I learned indoors at the planetarium in Griffith Observatory. It was so real, the dimming lights as the simulated sun set over a familiar skyline that included the iconic letters of the Hollywood Sign. But the stars and galaxies that blossomed in the darkness under the planetarium dome were nothing like the denatured night canopy above my childhood home in an LA suburb--they were better.
The battle with the bulb may have been lost in LA (although organizations like the Dark Sky Association continue to advocate for light pollution-mitigating technologies), but conservationists still have significant turf--literally--to protect in the hills above the urban slab. The letters that spell out Hollywood float on a wild oasis of chaparral, the state's most characteristic terrain, where according to the non-profit Chaparral Institute,"California will find its best and perhaps last chance to reclaim its wildness and preserve the quality of life made possible by the region's natural, open spaces."
I'll never touch Orion's belt, fill my lungs with solar wind, or leave footprints on Martian sand. Simulating inaccessible places can help us imagine possibilities, and dream of worlds that might be out there. But it takes the real thing to make us appreciate what we have in the wild spaces around our cities. There is no substitute for feeling, breathing and walking through nature. At best, movies, photos and other simulations can only portray what we might lose, or worse what we've lost, and evoke sadness for what will never be again.
The planetarium in the heart of Griffith Park has been renovated, and the silhouette has gone the way of other "quaint" science center conventions--the better to whisk the curious visitor into vast space and deep time. But stepping outside the historic observatory, the land is largely unchanged. The manzanita, sage and mariposa lilies still shelter endemic fauna like the coast horned lizard and the echo blue butterfly. LA may have lost its night skies, but the ancient stars of the Hollywood Hills are thriving. Let's keep it that way. Donate today.
Photo detail from skyline artwork by Lois Cohen projected onto planetarium dome prior to renovation. Image courtesy Griffith Observatory."