Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane

Hello friends, 
    If you’re on an overnight flight, you might have been looking forward to a gorgeous, Clearview of the stars. That’s the whole reason you booked that window seat, right? But when night falls, you look out your window, and…no stars! They’re obviously still there…so what’s going on here?? 

Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane

     Well, there are a few reasons and I’ve got them.

1.   The Lighting in your cabin Obviously, the yellowish-whitish light in your cabin isn’t natural light, and there are rows and rows of these lights from the front to the back of the plane. Plus, other passengers may be watching an in-flight movie.

    In other words, it’s brighter inside the plane than it is outside. No matter how dim the lights might get as they’re turned down around bedtime, there are enough of them to make it difficult to see the stars – which, keep in mind, are still quite a few miles away.

2.   Light Pollution Similarly, when you’re flying over a huge city like New York, London, or Tokyo, the stars still have to compete with all of those artificial lights from the cities.
   This concept is called light pollution. It might seem crazy to think that man-made lights will block out the light of millions of stars, but the stars are much further away than those glowing city lights below.

Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane
Night Pollution

3.   Skyglow A lot of light pollution, like the kind you'll get flying over a big city, can cause skyglow. Even if you aren’t flying directly over it, you can still see a big city to the left or right of you from a plane.

    Of course, even a big city will seem small from a plane, but there can be a huge glowing atmosphere around and above the city from all the lights. That’s what skyglow is, and it’s bright enough to block out even the light of the stars.     (Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane)

4.   The Moon and its Light, Even if it’s a clear night and you're above the clouds, the moon may be shining so brightly that its light will block out the stars. The moon still blocks the light of some stars when you’re stargazing from Earth. Even if you can’t see the stars from your plane, take the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful, unobstructed view of our moon.

Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane

5.   Proximity to the Stars, It might feel like you’re much closer to the stars while up in your airplane, but in terms of miles and light-years, you aren't really that much closer. After our moon and the sun, the star that’s next closest to the earth is called Proxima Centauri, and it’s 4.24 light-years away.

    1 light-year is 6 trillion miles. When thinking in terms of numbers that big, if your plane is only somewhere around 35,000feet off the ground, you’re not that much closer to the stars than you are from Earth anymoreDisappointing, I know!

6.   Atmospheric Turbulence Simply put, atmospheric turbulence is irregular air currents that are mixed around by the wind. Besides making your flight bumpy, this turbulence also stirs the air, which can move gasses, smoke, and vapors around the sky.

    This keeps these substances from settling in one air pocket and keeps the atmosphere healthy, but my point is that turbulence may bring in clouds, even on a clear night, which will block your view of the stars. Pay attention to see if it’s windy; if so, this may cause turbulence and bring the clouds rolling in. Yeah, stick your head of the airplane to see if it’s windy…ha..never mind.    (Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane)

7.   Your Retinas, The retina is the part of your eye that processes lightIf you have any pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, or have had any head trauma, your retinas may not work properly, and you may not be able to see the stars. Even healthy retinas need normal oxygen levels in the blood to work properly.

    Although the cabin will maintain pretty normal oxygen levels at a high altitude, any of these pre-existing conditions, or less than perfect retinas may affect your ability to see the stars from your plane.

Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane

8.   We Don’t Have Night Vision Well, at least not right away. There are other parts of your eyes besides your retinas that help you see in the dark, and your brain has to do some work, too. It takes us 10-20 minutes for our eyes to acclimate to the dark.

    So if you’re trying to see the stars from your plane and can’t, don’t give up too quicklyIf you’ve eliminated the light sources inside the cabin, whether by using your blanket or getting the cabin lights turned off, keep stargazing for at least 20 minutes. You have to give your eyes time to adjust.

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9.   Your Windows, The windows of an airplane are oddly shaped and on the small side, only reaching from about shoulder to elbow; not ideal for stargazing. The cramped nature of the seats makes it difficult to look out your window from multiple angles too

   You’d have to do a lot of neck-twisting! Airplane windows also have three layers of protection against the outside, so you stay safeAnyone of these panes may be scratched up or cloudy due to age. The shape and condition of your window may affect the quality of your view of the skies. It might be hard to get this near-perfect conditions.       (Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane)

Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane

     So, it has to be a clear night. The moon needs to be dim. Your cabin has to be dark. You can’t be flying over any big cities that may cause light pollution or skyglow,etc., etc. It could be difficult to get all of these elements to line up at the same time! Most of these conditions are out of your control, like all the natural elements outside.

    But if the right circumstances fall into place, your chance to stargaze above the clouds just may come along. So what CAN you do to increase your chances of seeing the stars from your flight? It might be difficult to see the stars, but it isn’t impossible.

    First, don’t do this during the day. Just kidding. Okay, Assuming that it’s a clear night, one option is to cover your head and sides of your face with your travel blanket. The goal here is to block out all the unnatural light from inside the cabin. 

   Then, lean toward the window until you can see out, but the sides of the window are bordered by your blanket too. You might get some curious glances, but you may be able to do a little stargazing from your plane. 

    Next don’t do this from the middle or aisle seat. The folks won’t take it too kindly if you flop over onto them to gaze out the window. You could also try asking the flight attendants if they could shut off the cabin lights fora minute or two.       (Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane)

    This would help make it almost as dark inside the cabin as it is outside. Without some elimination of the lighting inside the cabin, you won’t be able to see the stars at all. But, if you’re flying over an area with no skyglow or light pollution, and the lights are off in the cabin, you should be able to see some stars once your eyes adjust.

Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane

    Hey, It can’t hurt to ask! Some food for thought: in the early days of air travel, like in the ‘30s and ‘40s, pilots didn’t have all the technology on the flight deck that we have today. So how did they successfully navigate?

    They used the stars, or celestial navigation – similar to how sailors did! It’s much easier to see the stars from the larger and cleaner window in the cockpit. In the old days, the North Star and the constellations were tools of the trade! Seeing the stars from your plane is not only possible, but it used to be absolutely necessary! What’s that you ask, where are the best places to stargaze from an airplane?

    Obviously, the view from the bathroom isn’t good, so like I said try a window. If you’re doing some nighttime flying over Idaho, Utah, Colorado, or British Columbia, you just might be in for the sight of a lifetime. These parts of the U.S. are homes to many protected national parks and nature reserves, so there’s no danger of light pollution or skyglow.       (Why We Don't See Stars from a Plane)

    Skies tend to be pretty clear and cloudless in these places, too. If you’re flying over British Columbia during the wintertime, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights! Kinda depends on what side of the plane you’re on.

   So hey, if you learned something new today, then please share this article with your friends and family. And please let me know in the comment box, how is it.

---Thank You---

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