Midway at Night: the Stars, the Moon, and the Birds

The remote nature of Midway Atoll and the restriction of artificial light makes for a night of beautiful, bright stars.

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Midway Atoll is a place where the sky never turns black, not even in middle of the night when stars seem endless. While the Atoll is undoubtedly an amazing place: tons of seabird species, the iconic Laysan Albatross, the majestic crystal-clear blue waters, and the unforgettable historic and cultural value, among many other reasons. Another addition to this list of wonders is the sky—yes, that thing so certain that we pretty much forget it exists.

Skies on Midway are so striking that once you admire them for the first time, you will never forget them. Sunrise and sunset are among the most beautiful on the atoll—shades of orange, pink, purple, and yellow cover the clouds, with a soft light blue as the background.

Beach on Midway Atoll at sunset. Credit: Amanda Boyd

It was on Midway that I saw for the first time the bright and clear blue color of the lagoon water reflecting underneath the clouds. The Hawaiian word for this is kuaihelani, and refers to a mythical floating island in the sky, which could derive from the fact that large lagoons, such as that at Midway, reflect their image into the sky. The Hawaiian name for Midway is Pihemanu Kuaihelani which can be translated to floating islands with loud birds. Although the sky is beautiful from sunrise to sunset, the Midway sky that will forever stick in my brain is the night sky.

One of the most amazing things about remote islands at night is the minimal amount of artificial light—it is probably one of the things I look forward to the most when traveling to one of these unique and far-away places. On Midway, the darkness is the result of three main factors:

  1. The limited number of inhabited buildings and development
  2. No neighboring islands providing light pollution
  3. Efforts to reduce light from the buildings due to the presence of the Bonin Petrels which are highly attracted to the light and active at night.
Bonin Petrels are attracted to light so light pollution on Midway is restricted at night to protect them. Credit: Wes Jolley/Island Conservation

Almost no artificial light at night means you’ll experience the most incredible and darkest night skies ever. When you lay on the sand and stare at that infinite dark blanket, you realize that black is the least of the colors—in fact, everything glows. You notice thousands and thousands of stars with different glowing intensities, some are so bright it feels you are under a diamond frosted ceiling. You will see passing satellites, airplanes, and planets.

Midway Atoll National Monument below the starry night sky. Credit: Amanda Boyd

The main actress in this unbelievable show: the stellar Milky Way. The Milky Way on Midway is so clear and sharp that it feels like you can touch it, it’s like being inside a 4D movie. If all of this sounds out of this world, it can get even more intense during a meteor shower gazing. When I was there during July, I was lucky enough to see part of the meteor showers Southern Delta Aquariids and the Alpha Capricornids. Although these showers are better observed south of the equator, we were able to enjoy a substantial amount of meteors from one of the piers. There are few moments in life as great as spending the night, star gazing, surrounded by good friends, under an unbelievable sky. Being a first-row witness to this glowing wave of light reminded me of our diminutive stature in this vast universe—and it is yet another reason to fall in love with the unique and amazing Midway atoll.

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Featured photo: Night sky above the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge sign. Credit: Amanda Boyd

About Cielo Figuerola

Cielo is currently finishing her doctoral studies in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Puerto Rico. She has worked with Island Conservation since 2012 to protect endangered species, especially on Mona Island where she works to protect the Mona Island Rock Iguana. Traveling, exploring the outdoors, and discovering the simple but amazing details of the natural world are among the things she enjoys the most.

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