This week, CPRE, the countryside charity, is inviting everyone to join in with Star Count 2020, a fun and easy way to enjoy the wonders of the universe. By simply counting the number of stars they can see in the Orion constellation up until Friday, February 28, those taking part will help map the best and worst places to see the awesome sight of a star-filled night sky. Throughout history, people have gazed up at the magical starry night sky in wonder and used the cosmos to navigate. Looking at the stars we get a feeling of tranquillity rarely experienced in today’s frantic lives. Seeing dark skies full of stars is something we associate with the countryside, and part of reconnecting with the natural world. However, places to view these spellbinding sights are becoming harder to find, even in the countryside. Last year’s Star Count results showed that light pollution, often caused by the glow and glare from street and outdoor household and sports lighting, is making beautiful starry skies a rare sight for many of us. Just 2 per cent of people who took part in Star Count 2019 told us they were viewing a truly dark sky. Emma Marrington, CPRE’s starry skies expert, said: “A starry night sky is one of the most magical sights the countryside can offer, connecting people to such an important part of our natural heritage. But many people don’t get to experience this beauty due to light pollution. We want to get people out counting the stars and helping to save them now and for future generations to enjoy!” As well as preventing us from seeing the stars and wonders of our Milky Way galaxy, the Northern Lights and meteors (shooting stars), light pollution has serious impacts. It disrupts the natural behaviour of wildlife and can be harmful for our health. It’s also a waste of energy at a time when many people are trying to live more sustainably. Using the results from the annual Star Count, CPRE will lobby the government and local authorities to tackle light pollution and also highlight which ‘dark sky’ areas need to be protected and enhanced by strong policies. CPRE’s Star Count is supported by the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies (CfDS). Expert astronomer Bob Mizon from the CfDS said: “As well as being a wonderful opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the night sky, Star Count is starting to give us some really useful information. We’re hoping many more people will join in this year and give us the best map ever.” To take part, star counters are asked to choose a clear night this week. Without using a telescope of binoculars, people can then count the stars within the rectangle shape formed by Orion, except the four stars on the outer corners, then submit their results at cpre.org.uk/starcount
You can play your part in monitoring light pollution
This year’s Star Count (see here) goes live tomorrow (Saturday, February 2).
Organised by CPRE, it gives you the chance to become ‘citizen scientists’ by taking part in a cosmic census helping to map our dark skies.
The nationwide Star Count, supported by the British Astronomical Association, runs for the first three weeks of February (until Saturday, February 23). Wherever you are, you’re being asked to count the number of stars you can see with the naked eye within the constellation of Orion.
As well as promoting dark skies and engaging people in the wonders of stargazing, CPRE aims to highlight the blight that light pollution is causing our dark skies and its impact on people and nature.
Not only does light pollution prevent people from enjoying the beauty of a starry sky, it can disrupt wildlife behaviour and affect people’s sleeping patterns, impacting on physical and mental health and well-being.
Emma Marrington, dark skies campaigner at CPRE, said: “A dark sky filled with stars is one of the most magical sights our countryside has to offer and for thousands of years our night sky has been a source of information, fascination and inspiration.
“Increasingly, however, too many people are denied the opportunity to experience this truly natural wonder.
“We want as many people as possible, from right across the country, to get out and get involved with Star Count 2019.
“How many stars you will see ultimately depends upon the level of light pollution in your area, but by counting stars and helping us to map our dark skies, together we can fight back against light pollution and reclaim the night sky.”
Bob Mizon, UK coordinator of the British Astronomical Association Commission for Dark Skies, added: “Star counts are not only fun things to do in themselves but also help to form the national picture of the changing state of our night skies.
“As lighting in the UK undergoes the sweeping change to LEDs, it is really important that we know whether or not they are helping to counter the light pollution that has veiled the starry skies for most Britons for the last few decades.”
CPRE will use the results from Star Count 2019 to create a new map showing how light pollution is affecting the nation’s views of the night sky.
Our Night Blight maps, based on satellite data, showed that just 22 per cent of England is untouched by light pollution and that more than half of our darkest skies are over National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Through the Star Count, we will be able to provide more detailed and up-to-date information on the impact light pollution is having on people’s experience of dark skies.
With this information, CPRE will work with local and national government to ensure that appropriate lighting is used only where it’s needed – helping to reduce carbon emissions, save money and protect and enhance our dark skies.
To find out how to take part in Star Count 2019, see here
To see where your nearest dark skies are, see our NightBlight maps here
Light pollution from Thanet Earth… believe it or not, it’s even worse than this now (pic Craig Solly)
Sometimes television or film shows us night skies that are quite simply jaw-dropping. They portray millions of stars, together forming a spectacle that in places turns an otherwise black sky white.
Others might be more fortunate enough to take holidays in places that allow them to be dazzled directly in person.
One thing is certain, though, and that is that such experiences cannot be enjoyed to such a degree in our corner of the world. Partly this is down to geography, but of course the main culprit denying us views of the stars is light pollution.
And light pollution doesn’t get much worse than in east Kent, where the glasshouse complex of Thanet Earth has been recorded as the second-worst offender in the country, only the Tata Steel plant in Rotherham emitting more nocturnal light.
With the expansion of Thanet Earth, the problem has of course worsened, so by now it could potentially be the worst light polluter in the land.
Either way, the extraordinary orange glow over the site can be seen from miles around, most strikingly when there is low cloud. At times, the sky appears to be on fire… this is light pollution on an epic scale.
More generally, CPRE is next month (February) highlighting the issue nationally by bringing back the Star Count.
We are all being asked to count the number of stars we can see with the naked eye within the constellation of Orion, which is only visible in winter.
The national Star Count will take place during the darkest skies from Saturday, February 2, to Saturday, February 23, giving families the chance to join in during half-term, although the darkest skies are predicted for February 2-9. Supported by the British Astronomical Association, the results from Star Count 2019 will help CPRE create a new map showing how light pollution affects the nation’s views of the night sky and raise awareness of light pollution.
This year’s count will be a small trial event, with a view to expanding it into a larger engagement piece next year. You can find out how to take part at www.cpre.org.uk/starcount
Please do join us and encourage your friends and family to do the same – we all love the stars.
To see where your nearest dark skies are, see our NightBlight maps here