A dark sky filled with stars is becoming an ever rarer sight. Since most of the human population lives in or around big cities we have become detached from our night sky heritage as artificial lights filter out natural star light. Ask a young person about the Milky Way and you’re more often than not going to get an answer about some chocolate bar rather than the beautiful glowing arch of starlight above.
Light pollution, the bane of all astronomers both professional and amateurs alike, is basically light produced by street lamps, sports fields, skyscrapers, shopping malls, and even porch lights – any kind of light that floods the night sky and washes out the stars. But it not only robs us of our window to the cosmos but also wastes energy and can affect wildlife too. You want to see how bad light pollution is? Then check out this sobering NASA map of the Earth as it appears at night from space.
Now GlOBE at Night an international campaign to battle light pollution, is turning to the web in hopes to get citizen scientists to help out.
It originally got its start with NASA and was just in the United States but now the GLOBE at Night program had gone international, a citizen-science effort to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution.
The general public is asked to measure their night sky brightness and submit their observations to a website from a computer or digital device.
For the last six years the GLOBE at Night campaign runs for two weeks every winter and spring, with this one running until Monday, Jan.23rd
People of all ages and walks of life from 115 countries have contributed nearly 70,000 measurements, making GLOBE at Night one of the most successful light pollution awareness campaigns.
And participating couldn’t be any easier – no telescope or even binoculars required. All you need to do is load their web app onto your computer, tablet or smartphone and go outside in the early evening when it’s clear and look for one of the easiest star patterns to find in the night sky – Orion constellation. Even if you don’t stargaze, you have probably seen it looking up during the winter nights. Orion’s most recognizable feature is it’s row of three star that represent the mythical hunter’s belt.
What you do is count the bright visible stars in the area surrounding Orion and then match that number to one a of a few star charts of the constellation’s star pattern as it would appear under various amounts of light pollution. This will help quantify the magnitude of the faintest stars that are visible in your geographical location and give astronomers a clear idea of the quality of your night sky and if it’s getting worse or better over time.
The organizers hope that by raising awareness to the growing problem of light pollution, people will not only want to work towards protecting this natural heritage but also get a better appreciation of the true beauty the night sky has to offer .
So if you haven’t counted those stars around Orion yet, don’t wait ’cause you only have until Jan.23rd, Monday night, to do your part to help save the night sky!
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.