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A photo of the green, vaulted ceiling of Grand Central, with illuminated stars and painted constellation figures.
Starry ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. (Photo by Brian Abbott)

City of Stars

A New Yorker’s Guide to the Cosmos

Text and Photographs by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Natural History special issue

Introduction

Cover of the Natural History magazine with the titles superimposed on a black and white photo of the city from a high locale looking down on the buildings.

What if I were raised somewhere other than in New York City? What if had grown up on a dark rural farm, with a nighttime sky filled with stars? In this imagined life as a farmer’s child, I don’t suppose that I would have ever noticed the stars, just as New Yorkers never notice tall buildings. Rarely are we moved emotionally by that which we take for granted.

During a fourth grade trip to the Hayden Planetarium, I noticed the stars for the first time. And I am now an urban astrophysicist, through and through. To this day, when I travel to observatories on high mountains, and I see the sky with a clarity that rivals views from space, I think to myself, “It reminds me of the Hayden Planetarium.”

In spite of the Planetarium’s profound influence on me and on millions more, the day-to-day life of a New Yorker can remain a sky-starved existence unless you know where to look. References to the cosmos actually abound in the city and are generously sprinkled throughout the boroughs in the form of sculptures, decorations, architectural forms, and store-fronts. These abundant cosmic references give fresh meaning to the New Yorker’s conceit that we live at the center of the universe.

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