The Big Dipper went dark last week. It simply vanished into a field of increasing blackness. And navigators everywhere lost their way.
The news is reporting that there's an increase of suicides among scientists. There are protests going on right now in front of the NASA building in Washington, Jet Propulsion Laboratories, the Kennedy Space Center, and, strangely enough, the Large Hadron Collider. Perhaps they think it has something to do with the stars going out. Who knows. Who cares. At least it's not a Bad Moon Rising, that would ruin the song for all of us.
I think the one I'll miss the most is Cygnus. That's the one my mother always pointed out to me as a child. It went black just before the Big Dipper, though, so the news barely reported it. It's the Cygnus Ater now, the Black Swan.
People are getting worried about when our star is going to go out, plunging us into a neverending night. There are cults springing up everywhere. I saw a guy yesterday who had hastily modified his signboard so it read "The End is Hear." It made me smile, until I heard some people muttering about dark gods and human sacrifices.
The sky is very beautiful tonight, which is something of a paradox. I think I'll watch it from the roof. What's the opposite of stargazing? Darkgazing? Waiting for the light to catch up to us and then fade from existence until there's nothing left but darkness. I think I'll wait for the Black Swan to sweep across the sky, brushing each star with its feathers until it finally reaches us and we can fly across the heavens on its back, our own light lost in the terrible swiftness of its wings.
Sorry. Got a little poetic there. Maybe you'd like to go darkgazing with me some time? It sure beats all those apocalyptic bonfires.
To be more prosaic, this trope is in use when a storyteller shows that The End of the World as We Know It is beginning by having the stars disappear, blinking out one by one, leaving only empty space.
In a fantasy world, where the stars are usually supernatural objects or beings, this makes perfect sense. In the real world, where the stars are giant balls of fusing hydrogen nuclei at distances of many light-years (meaning that, even if they all went out at once, it would be four years before we saw even one of them vanish), it can be considered scientifically inaccurate, but the image is so arresting that Rule of Cool usually trumps science.
Subtrope of Signs of the End Times. Compare Bad Moon Rising, Alien Sky.
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In Darker Than Black, following a weird cataclysm, the stars were replaced by fake ones, with an Alien Sky over Earth. The real stars are still there, just obstructed from view; an unusual circumstance can grant a brief glimpse of the true sky... unless that'san illusion as well. The new stars in the fake sky are all linked to contractors, rising, brightening, fading and falling as the contractors are created, use their powers, and die — more specifically, each contractor has his or her own star, which can be used to check on the status of said contractor for those who know how. Also, the moon is gone.
Towards the end of the second season, the moon seems to reappear, which, in a strange inversion, is considered the real sign that everything is about to go pear-shaped in an extremely headache-inducing way. Which is reasonable, since it's actually Shion's backup Earth created before he goes into Hell's Gate to meet Yin, and the only reason the world makes it through that is that Hei got there in time. I think.
A Marvel Universe comic book starring Adam Warlock had him battling the Star-Thief who stole not just the stars but the light that had already left them (which is how Warlock knew there was an artificial cause.)
In the Ultimate Marvel Universe, this is, according to the Vision, what happens when Galactus comes to eat your planet. An incredible build-up, which fortunately (for the characters, not so much for the audience) doesn't amount to much.
Thanos once threatened doing something like this in one of many tirades to his love, Mistress Death. Psycho.
In the last issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths, when the Anti-Monitor pulls the last Earth into the anti-matter universe, the entire sky goes black. And then the blackness starts to move and everyone suddenly realizes it's because the entire sky is made up of millions of the Anti-Monitor's shadow monsters. Needless to say, it gets worse before it gets better.
In this Donald Duck comic the stars were disappearing from the sky due to some aliens wiping them out to build an intergalactic highway.
In Superman: The Earth Stealers, an energy globe closes around the Earth and the moon, blocking the stars with total darkness.
In Nexus, the first time Horatio, the eponymous Nexus, fights another fusion-kaster, Sutta, the energy they draw causes five stars to go out. There's some Continuity Drift, because later, when Horatio fights other fusion-kasters who were canonically more powerful than Sutta, notably Stan, no such thing happens. Still, it was an important event in the story, because it panicked several major governments, notably that of the Cohesive Web, which sent Ursula to Ylum....
Obscure Spanish animated film Nocturna uses this to instigate the plot — the young Tim's favorite star has gone out, quickly followed by several others, and he's the only one who seems to have noticed.
In Pandorum, the characters wake up from suspended animation to find their Generation Ship has been drifting through space for an untold number of centuries. The villain takes the protagonists to the bridge and shows them that there are no more stars, reasoning that they have been asleep so long that the ship either drifted beyond the edge of the known universe or that all the stars have burned out. Actually, they had crashed on the planet they were headed for and were merely at the bottom of an ocean.
Toward the end of The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, the Villain Protagonist thinks he's safe. The police's case against him has fallen apart and he's poised to take control of the Solar System. As he builds up to the climax of his Nothing Can Stop Me Now speech he happens to look at the sky... and the stars have disappeared. It gets worse.
In Lord Byron's poem "Darkness," humanity tears itself apart in a rage of fear and hunger after some incomprehensible force extinguishes every light in the sky. A Level 5 Planetary Extinction follows.
In Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, Ender imagines a nightmare scenario whereby every time someone uses interstellar travel, it extinguishes a star. Because the stars are so far away, humanity wouldn't realise what it was doing until it was thousands of years too late and the stars start disappearing from the sky.
The trope name comes from Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God", wherein a Tibetan monastery buys a computer and hires two technicians to automate their order's mission of calculating and writing down all the names of God. They believe that this is the ultimate purpose of the universe — and thus when it's over, God will simply shut everything down. The technicians don't believe that, and plan to leave on the night the computer will finish, to avoid the rush. Just as they're about to depart, they look up...
"Look," whispered Chuck, and George lifted his eyes to heaven. (There is always a last time for everything.) Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.
In the Asimov short story, The Last Question (reportedly the author's favorite), this trope is central to the plot: the titular last question is whether entropy can be reversed. It takes longer than the lifetime of the universe to come up with an answer. Yes, it can. The story ends with the now bodiless and omniscent computer proclaiming, "LET THERE BE LIGHT."
The Star Snuffer is one of the names of the Lone Power. In the third book he blows up a star just because Kit and Nina happen to be in the vicinity, and later starts snuffing entire galaxies just to put pressure on Dairene during their confrontation.
At the climax of the first book, he turns off Earth's star, i.e., the Sun. Not only is this very bad for Earth in the mid to long term, but the heroes' spellbook can only be read by moonlight — which is reflected sunlight.
Quarantine by Greg Egan: for unknown reasons an impervious sphere instantaneously appears around the solar system, centered on the sun. On Earth people panic as the stars disappear in a circle of darkness that appears to swallow the night sky as the last of the starlight reaches Earth. Any and all (unmanned) probes sent to the edge of the solar system detect nothing until they reach the edge of the sphere and simply disappear. This happened several decades ago in the backstory of the setting. The cause remains a mystery, but when nothing else happened most people eventually just got on with their lives. The most significant effect is perhaps the creation of a Apocalypse Cult/International Terrorist Organization with a mysterious agenda and a reverence for those born after the stars disappeared ("children of the void" or something like that).
Issac Asimov's short story "Nightfall" inverts this. When the 7 suns all set (or are eclipsed) at once, which happens every few thousand years, the population goes utterly insane, and destroys civilization, when they see darkness, then the millions of stars around their little solar system (they are near the center of a galaxy).
In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath, the stars going out will be the sign that the chaotic infection of Perimal Darkling has broken its barriers and is overwhelming yet another world.
Stars dropping from the sky is one part of the mortalNarnia's end in C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle, a Shout-Out to the Norse Ragnarok, as well as the earth sinking into the ocean. Since stars in this 'verse are actually glowing people, this makes the world's final hours a bit more brightly-lit and crowded.
In Charles Stross' The Atrocity Archives, there's an Alternate Universe where most of the stars are gone because a monster has eaten all the heat from the universe and without the energy to make it expand, the universe has been collapsing in on itself. When the crew enters the universe, the collapse has sped up to be faster than the speed of light and somewhere in the quickly shrinking universe lurks an Ice Giant looking for a way out...
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson begins with the stars vanishing from the night sky — it isn't immediately apocalyptic, but this is still a harbinger of doom as the reason for this is quickly found to be that the Earth has been stuck in a semi-permeable bubble of slow time, meaning that the sun will die within a generation.
These dreams were glacially slow, actionless, featureless hours of empty staring into empty space, hours becoming years that stretched into numberless millennia, as one by one the stars went out. He could do nothing, for there was nothing to do.
Except watch the stars die.
And in their place was left nothing. Not even absence. Only him.
While its not the entire sky, the gods of Krynn in the Dragonlance series vanish from the stars in the sky while manifesting on world.
In T.A. Barron's The Great Tree of Avalon series, only seven stars in the constellation known as the Wizard's Staff are going out. Unfortunately, they're not "going out" as much as releasing hordes of god-soldiers from their prisons.
In The Lord of the Rings, around the time the siege of Minas Tirith begins, Sauron (or the Nazgūl) create a darkness that not only blots out the stars, but makes it hard to tell when morning has arrived. (Until a rooster crows.)
In A Wrinkle in Timeand most of its sequels, evil entities such as the Black Thing and the Ecthroi have the power to turn the stars dark.
In the Humanx Commonwealth series, the Great Evil is a galaxy-sized Eldritch Abomination that is on a march toward the Milky Way. Scientists of various species throughout galactic history discovered it by examining the "Great Emptiness", a region of space that seemingly contains no stars, galaxies, or other active matter. So, in this case, they're going out because they're being eaten.
In The Time Ships, after leaving a colony of humans in the Palaeocene era and returning to his own time the Time Traveller finds that not only is the Earth abandoned but there are very few stars in the sky. Nebogipfel concludes that the descendants of the people they left behind have spread across the galaxy and built Dyson spheres around the majority of stars.
There are two examples of this in Dutch author Tais Teng's works — eerily enough, both of them occur in books meant for children. One book involves the battles of a sacred order against creatures pouring into our world through gateways to a planet wrapped in perpetual darkness; it turns out the gateways simply lead to the future, in which the Earth is wrapped in a cosmic dust cloud. Another book cynically ends with an oblivious child getting its hands on a book that fulfills any wish you write in it, and writing, just for fun, "The Sun goes out."
In Stephen Baxter's Last Contact, the stars are going out because the big rip is tearing apart the universe starting with the largest structures.
In the Lord Darcy story "The Ipswich Phial", a priest describes having witnessed the stars overhead all going out in an instant, only to return a few minutes later. Subverted in that the stars actually still exist: the star-gazing priest has merely been rendered temporarily blind by a top-secret magical effect.
In Will Murray's short story "The Sothis Radiant", an astronomer learns that tendrils of energy have been spreading out through the galaxy, causing stars to go nova at an accelerating rate.
Inverted for the people of Krikkit in Life, the Universe and Everything. Their planet is inside a dust cloud which prevents any stars from being seen in the night sky. When they build their first spacecraft and see a universe full of stars, they are absolutely horrified by the sight and promptly begin making plans to destroy it all.
At the end of Daystar, all the stars in the galaxy go out at once, right before the world is remade/restored to what it should have been.
An Exaltation Of Larks by Robert Reed shows the heat death of the universe, where the stars have long since burned out, and stellar formation ceased, leaving behind a dark, cold, and empty universe.
In Somtow Sukharitkul's Mallworld stories, the inner Solar System has been quarantined by enclosing it in a giant sphere about 20 AU in radius (until such time as we become mature enough to join the Galactic civilisation). Not only does this prevent our travelling much beyond Saturn, it also blocks starlight.
Night Watch, the only SF work known to have been written by James Inglis, is about an interstellar probe which is still functional when our Galaxy is dying. The story ends with the community of probes launched by various races, and drawn together by the fact that very few stars are still shining, setting out on the long voyage to a distant and still-young galaxy as the last star of our galaxy burns out behind them.
In the Revenge of the Sith novelization, Anakin remembers a mission where he and Obi-Wan visited a world orbiting a dead star, made of hypercompacted metals just above absolute zero. Having grown up on a desert world where the twin suns burned him daily, Anakin is astonished to learn that stars can die. Having also heard legends as a child about dragons that eat suns, he begins to personify his fear as a cold dragon reminding him that "all things die. Even stars burn out..."
For added spookiness, this episode was broadcast (in the UK), the week that Arthur C. Clarke died.
Far earlier, in "Logopolis", the Master's interference causes a wave of entropy to cause a large portion of the universe to go out, right before the eyes of the TARDIS crew.
At the end of "The Pandorica Opens", the stars are going out... Because they're all exploding, along with the TARDIS.
In the beginning of "The Big Bang", the stars have all gone out... because they never existed, having all collapsed. Earth only has a sun because it's the TARDIS, exploding; this has resulted in an alternative history where stars as an entity are considered a myth.
In Utopia the TARDIS travels 100 trillion years into the future, when all the stars have long ago died of old age and a few planets are maintained in habitable condition by artificial "atmosphere shields".
In "The Name of the Doctor", stars are blinking out of existence because the Great Intelligence is rewriting the Doctor's history, undoing all the good he's done.
Actually, as you find out later in the episode... the sun didn't fail to rise. Everywhere else had sunlight. It was the hatred and bigotry of the townspeople against the falsely convicted black man that kept the sunlight away from their town. How does it get worse, you ask? Well... not only do you find out that the sunlight never comes back to that town, but there's a radio broadcast announcing that other towns and cities have started experiencing the same condition of eternal night as well.
In one episode of Lexx, the heroes watch in horror as whole groups of stars disappear from the sky as Mantrid's Horde of Alien Locusts — well, robotic ones — consumes them.
How light it is depends on your point of view. The entire universe is coming to and end...for the entertainment of those who traveled in time to visit a restaurant with a view of it.
Part of the backstory in Andromeda. The ultimate Big Bad has been traveling through the universe collapsing all the starts in whole galaxies as part of a plan to destroy the universe. The galaxies the Commonwealth occupied are about all that's left. Almost nobody knew about it because the light from the time of the collapses hasn't reach known space yet.
U2's "One Tree Hill" ("I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky / and the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill") and "The Fly" ("It's no secret that the stars are falling from the sky"); the latter song has been described as "a phone call from Hell".
Several songs by DragonForce mention this: "The Fire Still Burns" ("And all the stars fall around the world tonight") and "Revolution Deathsquad" ("And the stars fall on the horizon/Onwards and up through the pain"). "Black Winter Night" also has the sun going dark in the sky and the world freezing into "visions of ice".
The Midnight Juggernauts song "Dystopia" describes the stars falling out of the sky in a beautiful and terrible spectacle: "Any given minute we're witness to planets falling from on high/Sparkle as they're falling through the twilight sky".
The song "If" by Bread includes these lyrics: "If the world should stop revolving spinning slowly down to die, I'd spend the end with you. And when the world was through, Then one by one the stars would all go out, Then you and I would simply fly away."
"Stars" by Dubstar: But as the stars are going out / And this stage is full of nothing / And the friends have all but gone / For my life, my God, I'm singing / We'll take our hearts outside / Leave our lives behind / And watch the stars go out...
The Ataris' "The Night the Lights Went Out in NYC".
Dave Matthews Band's "When the World Ends", in which everything else disappears too.
"Stars Gone Out" by Low.
Snow Patrol's Warmer Climate uses this in the chorus:
The universe just vanished out of sight
And all the stars collapse behind a pitch black night
And I can barely see your face in front of mine
But it is knowing you are there that makes me fine.
The Lights song "Drive My Soul" begins, "Seems somebody put out the moon..."
Defied in Guillemots' Anti-Love Song (of the "us being together isn't going to drastically change the world, but it'd be kinda nice" variety) "Blue Would Still Be Blue"; "If I had you, all the stars wouldn't fall from the sky/and the moon wouldn't start to cry."
In the Norse Ragnarok, the stars start to fall from the sky and into the sea, and when not even those are left the sky itself falls inwards. The world is reborn eventually, but with new stars and new Gods.
Other verison has it that the children of the Fenriswolf will EAT all of the stars.
In The Bible, parts of the Apocalypse are described as the stars falling and the moon turning to blood. Additionally the sun is supposed to get dimmer for a time too. All of which makes this at least Older Than Feudalism.
The origin event of Tekumel in the book and game series Empire Of The Petal Throne. A superweapon splits the Tekumel system into a parallel universe where nothing else exists.
In one campaign in the Exalted supplement The Autochthonians, by plugging Autochthon into the well of souls, the stars in the sky goes out. Doing so heralds the end of an age, and what happens afterwards is up to the GM, but it could include Autochthon deciding to conquer Creation.
This event forms a crucial part of the background to (and provides the name for) the tabletop RPG Fading Suns. It does not mean the night sky is noticeably dimmer, though — it's the change in brightness of stars having inhabited systems (and subsequent climate change on these worlds) that is the problem.
One adventure arc in the Dungeons & DragonsSpelljammer line ended with the stars of a huge invading empire's capital world raining down from the sky. Not as destructive as in other examples, as the "stars" are giant gemstones embedded in the surrounding crystal sphere, and aside from the unlucky folks who got hit by the meteorite shower, all the planet's downtrodden peasants find themselves suddenly rich.
There's no mention of it actually happening, but in Warhammer Fantasy source material, a quote from Chaos Champion Egrimm Van Horstmann uses the idea for dramatic effect and symbolising the end times.
The age of mortals is ending. Time drains away and the stars fade from the skies one by one. The bitter spawn of night crawls from the darkness to possess the world for eternity to come.
In BIONICLE, when Mata Nui dies, the stars inside the Matoran Universe go out. Justified because the stars are actually Mata Nui's internal processes.
In Kingdom Hearts, Mickey's letter specifically states that, one by one, the stars are going out as worlds fell to darkness and vanished from the skies of other worlds, so he leaves Disney Castle to find out why.
The player is treated to some dialogue and a boss battle while Sora's world is ripped to pieces by the Heartless, and finally everything fades to black. The next time we see Sora, the scene starts with a star falling out of the sky. It gets the point across pretty well.
Katamari Damacy; though the stars don't so much "go out" as "were knocked out by a drunken King Of All Cosmos".
In the sequel, astronomers and astronauts still express anxiety over there being a nice and thick cluster of stars around Earth, while space is nearly empty everywhere else.
In the Back Story to Ōkami, Amaterasu becomes Sealed Good in a Can, and the twelve constellations of the Chinese Zodiac, gods and children to Amaterasu, all slowly go out in the successive century. She expends a great deal of time and effort throughout the game restoring these (cute and funny) gods in order to regain her full powers. One in particular has a giant catfish eat Rabbit (patron god of the moon) by swallowing the moon's reflection in a lake! Eventually, they are once again snuffed out when Yami, god of darkness and the void, uses the solar eclipse to steal Amaterasu's power. The cutscene showing them all explode into stardust one by one is crushing... as is her triumph once all of Nipon's residents send her enough energy to restore her to full strength, bringing all the constellations back.
In Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty at the end of Zeratul's vision The dark voice, after consuming all life in the universe then extinguishes all the stars.
You'd think it would be more efficient to extinguish the stars first, instead of bothering with killing off all that pesky life, which would die anyway without the stars.
In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the stars in the background at the beginning of Chapter 5 go out in an instant while Pa-Patch is on lookout, signalling the arrival of the ghostly Embers.
In Halo 3, one of the last messages from the Librarian to Didact describes her view from Earth as the Flood Zerg Rushed the last parts of Forerunner-controlled space — so many ships were on the move that the stars were flicking out as they were repeatedly eclipsed.
In Silentium, as the flood approach the Greater Ark far outside the galaxy, so many Star Roads assemble that the Milky Way is barely visible, "as if viewed through a weave of shadowy bars".
Played straight in Dark Horizon, or the 'Tarr Chronicles'', wherein an inky darkness is filling the universe with void, swallowing stars and wiping out most of the known universe. This made for an unusually empty space flight sim; beyond the local star and planets, there's just darkness...
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time: When Luther enters the Eternal Sphere, all the stars in the sky on every planet in the entire Milky Way Galaxy server disappear for a short time. In-game NPCs call this The Darkest Night.
The point is that there are too many stars. It's been freaking me out.
In Schlock Mercenary, the Gatekeepers perform an experiment that obliterates the galaxy, which they don't notice because the sphere of destruction is propagating outward from the galactic core faster than any of their methods of communication.
In The Fairly OddParentsNon-Serial Movie "Wishology", the constellations are manned by fairies holding their wands as part of a celestial early warning system, so it's a sign of very bad things to come when the Big Dipper vanishes.
In the episode "The Night the Stars Went Out" from the '80s series of the Care Bears, the stars vanish one by one throughout as musician Maestro Strato Nefarious is stealing them so that he has enough light to read and play his music by. A boy down on Earth going to bed notices blackness slowly sweeping across the sky during the night...until the Care Bears help Strato Nefarious and he agrees to put all the stars back. Aww.
In Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the Anti-Monitor caused this in his own universe. There is only one star, orbited by only one planet. The entire universe is nothing, having been absorbed by him to feed his hunger. The only reason that world still exists is because it made a deal with the Anti-Monitor to be spared in exchange for sending him to the Green Lantern universe.
As of "Larfleeze", it's happening in the normal universe too, courtesy of Aya.
The theory of the Heat Death of the universe. The theory posits that, eventually, the universe will "run down" to a state of no free thermodynamic energy as per the second law of thermodynamics. The universe becomes very, very cold. Close to absolute zero.
Connected to this theory is the The Degenerate Era of the Universe, which is believed to come about in 10^14 years (Yes, that is 14 zeroes). Currently we are in the Stelliferous Era, the age of stars and galaxies. During the Degenerate Era, star formation ceases, and any stellar remnants left are either flung from their galaxies, to burn out completely, or are gobbled up by black holes. Heat Death would come along either in 10^100 (10 duotrigintillion, 10 sexdecilliard, or more famously, a googol) or 10^200 years depending on whether or not protons decay. By this time, even the black holes would have long evaporated, and any electron and positrons left would have fused and disappeared.
The Big Rip Theory, a recent hypothesis about how the universe might end, posits that the universe will just keep on expanding until everything is too far for any interaction to occur—making the four fundamental forces of the universe (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces) stop happening. Galaxies fly apart as the stars pull away, the stars darken and planets disintegrate as their component particles lose all ability to bond, until finally the particles themselves decay into nothingness. But don't worry. According to the authors of the hypothesis all of that's still 50 billion years away from happening, give or take.
Even if the Big Rip doesn't happen, every star that exists will eventually die. The universe will grow dark. However, this won't happen for trillions of years, as new stars are being born (in a non biological sense) all the time.note However, according to one recent study, 95% of all stars that will ever be born in the universe have already been born. The catch is there is only a finite amount of hydrogen in a given volume of space and no process that replaces it. Seeing as stars shine by turning hydrogen into other elements that means eventually no new stars. The time scales depend on a lot of hard to measure variables, the trillions of years bit is really just a rough guess at the lower limit. After all star formation stops, it won't be long before all the stars in the universe are the long-lived red dwarfs, so dim that none can be seen from Earth with the naked eye.
Also, stars that go out may do so in a Gamma Ray Burst, where gamma rays burst out from the poles of the star and just keep going. One such star was thought to be pointed directly at Earth, but a study in 2009 has called this into question.
Eventually—but not all at once—the stars will go out. The universe is not just expanding, but accelerating. It will, in time, accelerate to faster than the speed of light (it's not that distant objects are actually moving that fast, but that space itself it stretching at that speed), at which point light from those objects will no longer reach us. Assuming anything resembling humanity is around by then, the only stars they will have to look at are those of the local group megagalaxy, and most of those will be dim and red by that point...
If you have the open source astronomy program Celestia, you can pretend that the stars are going out by slowly decreasing the auto-magnitude setting. Same for the also open source planetarium program Stellarium, in which you can simulate the effects of light pollution
A fair number of the stars in our sky are fairly far away — the naked eye can see out to about 2.5 million light years for large stars. Given the speed of light delay, there's a chance that the star you're wishing on is already stellar dust.