The dark regions in the starry night sky are not pockets in the universe that are devoid of stars as had long been thought. Rather, they are dark because of interstellar dust that hides the stars behind it. Although its visual effect is so pronounced, dust is only a minor constituent of the material, extremely low in density, that lies between the stars. The average density of interstellar material in the vicinity of our Sun is 1,000 to 10,000 times less than the best terrestrial laboratory vacuum. It is only because of the enormous interstellar distances that so little material per unit of volume becomes so significant. Optical astronomy is most directly affected, for although interstellar gas is perfectly transparent, the dust is not.