According to Webster’s Dictionary, an occultation is defined as ‘the state of being hidden from view or lost to notice.’ In astronomy, this commonly refers to an interrupted view due to a passing celestial body, such as an eclipse.
Thirty miles south of Tucson at the Whipple Observatory, Dr. Emilio Falco and a team of astronomers from the Smithsonian Institute have been searching for planets outside our solar system, also known as exoplanets. A complex and time-consuming process, identifying exoplanets involves monitoring celestial bodies as they pass in front of stars. For two decades, Dr. Falco’s team has been using powerful telescopes at the observatory for their research, however there are mounting challenges that threaten this work. With encroaching development from the city of Tucson, mining operations on nearby mountains, and increased border patrol activity, light pollution is disrupting their ability to observe the night sky.
Light is one of the most important tools for researching the universe, however its usage on our own planet ironically inhibits our ability to see. As a result, humanity’s constant expansion and development on Earth has created its own occultation, disrupting our capacity to look beyond what is in our own backyard.
Alex Turner (b. 1984) is from Chicago, Illinois and holds a BA in studio art from DePaul University. He is currently an MFA candidate in studio art with an emphasis in photography at the University of Arizona.