Back in Pittsburgh, when I had a column in the weekly paper, I was sitting in a bar near the Pitt campus talking with a few casual acquaintances. The conversation drifted to the most recent "Light-Up Night," when downtown Pittsburgh turned on all the office building lights, usually to show off to a national TV audience during a Monday Night Football game or some such occasion. A young woman in the group wondered what it would be like if instead all the lights were turned off--we might actually see what the sky over Pittsburgh looked like.
I immediately stole the idea and proposed a "Lights-Out Night" in my next column. Now the idea has become a reality: cities in 121 countries are participating tonight in Earth Hour-- organized by the World Wildlife Fund, cities go dark (sort of) for an hour (between 8:30 and 9:30 pm local time), to support efforts to address global heating.
Landmarks to go dark for Earth Hour for the first time in 2010 include South Dakota's Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls at the U.S.-Canada border, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, the Great Pyramids in Egypt, Table Mountain in South Africa, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan.
I don't know if Pittsburgh or our little cities hereabouts are participating, but apparently people on their own are joining in:"Cities and businesses are the ones you're always hearing about, because they have the skyscrapers and the big marquees. But Earth Hour has always been an event about families and individuals as well," Aun said.
The intent is different from Lights Out Night, but in participating cities, the opportunity I saw is being included--people are also being urged to look up and see a night sky they may not otherwise see as clearly.
And tonight offers a neat show: The moon should be gorgeous on the night of March 27, as it will be its closest to Earth for the whole month around midnight that night. But in addition to the usually visible moon, sky-watchers can look for the bright star Regulus shining above the moon, Saturn near the moon's lower left, the star Spica below Saturn, and another star Arcturus down and to the left.
And then there's, well, the rest of the universe.