How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?
Are the Phillies a sure thing to win the next World Series now that they’ve got Nolan Ryan, Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax and Cy Young on the staff?
Is Las Vegas really the brightest spot on the planet when it’s seen from space?
Depends on who you ask.
As you can see, the answers are all out of order, which is fitting, given that the only way you’re going to get a solid answer to any of this is to make it up anyway.
You see, The Associated Press sent out this image from NASA the other day. A bunch of astronauts with some free time were taking snapshots of the Earth from up there on the International Space Station.
One of these pics shows Las Vegas at night. The city looks like an amoeba or something, with a bright cluster of goo in the middle and grids of lighted streets emanating out until the pitch black blackness that surrounds the city stops the light cold.
If you turn the picture just right, it looks like the face of the devil.
It’s pretty much all over the Internet that Las Vegas is the brightest spot on Earth when seen from space. Blogs and news reports and writings of all types say so. The legend has become so Internet-y that it’s taken as a given nowadays.
Even the vaunted New York Times said so a couple of years ago.
NASA itself won’t commit. On its blog, the agency says this: "The Vegas Strip is reputed to be the brightest spot on Earth due to the concentration of lights on its hotels and casinos."
Reputed to be? Sounds kinda weasely, dudn’t it, coming from a group of "reputed" scientists?
So we brought in the big guns to answer the question.
First up is the International Dark Sky Association (totally serious here). That’s a bunch of people who hate light pollution so much, they formed a group so they can hate it in unison.
"If you guys aren’t the brightest, the only other place I can think of is Shanghai or Hong Kong," says Johanna Duffek, the group’s outreach and education coordinator.
She’s talking about cities, by the way, with millions more people than Las Vegas has squished into smaller spaces.
She turns from the phone for a minute to consult a buddy, presumably the expert of all experts. There is mumbling in the background. The word "Luxor" is overheard.
"You tie with Shanghai," she says.
So there’s your verdict. We tie with the most populous city in the world’s most populous country for brightness. Which has got to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Presently, Dale Etheridge, director of the planetarium at the College of Southern Nevada, calls us back.
"Not really," is his answer. Which is disappointing. We thought we had this one solved.
"We’re probably the most noted for the egregious use of light, and we’re brighter in light per square mile," he says, but places like Los Angeles put out way more light than we do.
Yes … but … the title … brightest city in the world … !
"We have areas that are as bright as any other city, but … ," he says, obviously making a weak attempt to mollify. We’re not going to add the gibberish he said after the "but."
It hurts too much.
So, how about those Phillies, huh?
Contact reporter Richard Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0307.