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In Search of the Stars

A time-lapse quest to find California’s clearest night skies.

This video is a gorgeous record of an experiment: How far do you have to travel from California’s inhabited places for a view of the universe unimpeded by light pollution? In a way, Sriram Murali’s video is a journey from one twinkling galaxy to another, as city lights are slowly left behind for the celestial variety.

Starting in San Jose and Mountain View, we move outward and away, aircraft streaking across the time-lapsed skies. It’s not until we reach Lassen Volcanic National Park that our place in the glittering universe becomes startlingly clear. Light pollution is measured using the Bortle scale. An urban sky gets a Level 9 ranking, while a primevally dark sky ranks as a Level 1. Lassen’s has a Level 2 rating.

Murali finally reaches Level 1 at the Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park, and it’s there where the sky is truly spectacular: The stars in all their glory as pre-industrial humans saw them.