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Chicago, Fleurus, and Jupiter

Dan Blaufuss | November 2012

    I am absolutely fascinated by NASA’s Earthlights picture, an image of Earth’s city lights created with data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Operational Linescan System ( The view from space makes it easy to see things people rarely consider. I haven’t been to the east coast of the United States since I was two years old, so it has always been difficult to picture the idea that from Boston to Washington, D.C. is almost one big city, but the image of the city lights makes it clear. Although I am more familiar with how far west Chicago’s suburbs extend, the map makes it seem like a quarter of the width of the state at that latitude, something I don’t think of when fighting the traffic.
    Looking further, the statistic that 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the United States is clear from the dark portions of northern Canada. Crossing oceans further exposes my geographical ignorance; I had no idea the United Kingdom had as many large cities as it seems to. I was also surprised to see the Nile River in Egypt as lit up as it is. On the other hand, Russia’s Trans-Siberian Highway is easy to spot, and the difference between North and South Korea is stark and sobering.
    Maps of all kinds have always fascinated me. I occasionally visit Google Maps and request random directions, such as Helsinki to Lisbon, just to see what places I would pass through on the journey. Google Maps’s directions for the Helsinki-Lisbon trip send drivers through Fleurus, Belgium, a city of 22,000. To me this may as well be another planet. In addition to maps I love looking at photos from space. No one in our generation is likely to see Jupiter looming large the way our space probes have photographed it, and I’m probably equally unlikely to ever see Fleurus.
    A trip across the ocean is obviously far easier to plan, but I find the idea of traveling overseas intimidating. Fears of flying aside, I am entirely inept at learning other languages and do not do well with foreign cuisine; the list of things I cannot eat is, sadly, extremely long. I have, however, been part of a trip to Taiwan with my college steel band. The plane ride was long and turbulent, the only things I could say in Mandarin were hello and thank you, and I ate more Moon Pies that two weeks than I would like to admit. However, when I look back at the trip, these things are mostly forgotten.
    The enduring memories are of how much people enjoyed our concerts everywhere we performed. People speak of music being the universal language, but it is a different thing altogether to experience this first hand. This, then, is one of my favorite things about music: musicians from any lighted dot on the globe can come together and play together without ever being able to speak a word to each other. We can all simply enjoy the music. This November I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to enjoy it, too.