When I do a planetarium show for an audience, and they see the night sky for the first time, I always ask them ‘What do you see?’ The response is the usual stuff – Stars, the Moon, maybe planets, or the Milky Way. But they seem to be missing the most important and largest part of the sky – the Darkness. Space itself.
Stars light up the cosmos, but if there were no stars, would we think that the universe was empty? Perhaps, but if you can imagine this scenario, it gives you an important perspective when you want to look beyond the stars, what else lies in the vast darkness?
What you see in the image above is a cold molecular cloud, the very basic building block of a star. This cold gas and dust is getting thicker as gravity slowly pulls it into clumps that will eventually form new stars, illuminating the surrounding darkness. For now, the only way to spot such a cloud is to see it against the background of the distant stars in the galaxy, or to see faint reflections from nearby stars.
Look into the darkness of the night sky and think about what lies in the darkness, there is much more than you imagine.