In the short days of winter, even if you are in the city with the imposition of urban skylights, the night sky seems to release a better view of the stars. Something about the snap of the cold and the clean smell of the air almost lures you to stay outside a little longer when the darkness appears as an almost otherworldly blue. But how long will we be able to have this kind of view of the universe? It’s this kind of moment that an astronomer and artist has captured in a series of spectacular posters, promoting educational viewing events at the National Parks.
Dr. Tyler Nordgren, artist, astronomer, photographer, professor, and national parks “Night Sky Ambassador” is one of those multifaceted people who shares his knowledge with others, giving us all an appreciation for the world around us, and beyond. His 2012 poster series first spread in a colorful and compelling way word of ranger naturalist programs at the U.S. National Parks Service, including the solar eclipse. Dr. Nordgren created a series of retro-style travel posters beginning in 2005 exploring a “what if” of planetary travel referring to a “United Nations Department of the Exterior.” His 2014 Milky Way “Half the Park is After Dark” posters stand out as uniquely magical. All feature a blue and white color scheme, a national park location, and a constellation or star view visible overhead. Although they immediately recall–and were inspired by–the famous Art Deco Works Progress Administration and Department of the Interior posters from the 1930s-1940s discussed previously here at borg.com, his 44 designs form their own museum gallery of wonder.
Dr. Nordgren’s latest project? The August 21, 2017, solar eclipse. According to Dr. Nordgren, “Every single man, woman and child in North America will be in the shadow of the moon together on that day and never before has a total solar eclipse passed over such a densely populated country for over 2000 miles.” Dr. Nordgren has created a new set of poster images, featuring 22 designs of varying style influences, each highlighting the total solar eclipse coming this year on August 21–not to appear again until April 8, 2024. As the appropriately themed mod style poster for Oregon declares, this will be the first such eclipse since 1979. Dr. Nordgren’s Willamette Valley design evokes those colorful fruit crate labels used throughout the early and mid-20th century.
All of these posters are quite affordable and available at Dr. Nordgren’s website, tylernordgren.com.
Dr. Nordgren has a good message for lovers of parks, nature, and the environment with his work. “When we think of protecting natural landscapes we picture those vistas during the time that we normally see them: by day. But half the ‘day’ happens at night,” he notes in a statement about his “After Dark” artwork. “Light pollution, the wasted artificial lighting from cities and towns which has rendered the Milky Way and stars virtually invisible, also shines every night into our protected lands. In many of these places, including national parks, the animals that hunt, feed, breed, and give birth at night, no longer experience true darkness. Even we humans are profoundly affected by the quality of natural night. Imagine your favorite wilderness landscape. Now imagine that when the sun sets that instead of sleeping by the light of a million stars, you were instead bathed in an orange urban glow with no more than a dozen stars feebly visible. Would we still call such a place natural? The natural sky at night is now as rare to us as glaciers and grizzly bears and if we do not actively protect it, we will be in danger of letting it slip away like so much else we hold dear in the world around us. With my photography I seek to document the national park landscapes with which so many are familiar by day, but instead show their beauty at night. For so many of these places, the glow of encroaching urbanization is just over the hill and all too visible to the photographer’s camera at night.”
Dr. Nordgren is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Redlands. NASA’s Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers that landed on Mars carried sundials or “Marsdials” that Dr. Nordgren helped design with a team of scientists and artists. His award-winning photographs of the night sky have been displayed in museums across the U.S. And he has published two books that convey his message of the importance of protecting the night sky: Sun Moon Earth, a history of solar eclipses just published and available here at Amazon, and Stars Above, Earth Below, a guide to astronomy in the national parks, available here, also at Amazon. You can also purchase solar eclipse glasses that come with either his 2017 Great American Eclipse poster here or his Sea to Shining Sea poster here–both a great opportunity for schools to get involved. Dr. Nordgren can be found presenting his lecture series year round throughout the national parks.
Mark your calendar now for August 21, 2017, for the rare total eclipse of the Sun. Dr. Nordgren’s posters advise those interested to check out viewing opportunities with your local astronomy club.