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
A record 2,300 people took part in this year’s Star Count. The count, held over the first three weeks of February, revealed that just 2% of participants experienced the wonders of a truly dark sky full of stars, due to the impact of light pollution caused by street lighting and other artificial lights, even in the countryside. CPRE is calling for action to tackle light pollution and enable more people to enjoy the beauty of a starry sky. The cosmic census, which was supported by the British Astronomical Association, aimed to promote dark skies and engage people in the wonders of stargazing. Star-spotters submitted the number of stars they could see within the constellation of Orion and the results used to create an interactive map displaying people’s view of the night sky. But it also demonstrated the impact that light pollution is having on people’s view of the stars. Well over half of all participants (57%) failed to see more than 10 stars, meaning they are severely impacted by light pollution. In contrast, only 9% of people experienced ‘dark skies’, counting between 21 and 30 stars, while just 2% experienced ‘truly dark skies’ and were able to count more than 30 stars – half the proportion of people able to do so during the previous Star Count, in 2014. CPRE suggests the results show we can do more to combat light pollution. Given its detrimental impact – not just on people’s view of the night sky but also the behaviour of nature and wildlife, as well as human health – we are urging the government, local councils and general public to do more to limit the impact of artificial light from streets and buildings. Emma Marrington, dark skies campaigner at CPRE, said: “We’re hugely grateful to the many people who took the time to get out and take part in our Star Count. But it’s deeply disappointing that the vast majority were unable to experience the natural wonder of a truly dark sky, blanketed with stars. Without intervention, our night sky will continue to be lost under a veil of artificial light, to the detriment of our own health, and the health of the natural world. “The Star Count results show just how far-reaching the glow from streetlights and buildings can be seen. Light doesn’t respect boundaries, and careless use can see it spread for miles from towns, cities, businesses and motorways, resulting in the loss of one of the countryside’s most magical sights – a dark, starry night sky. “By using well-designed lighting only when and where it is needed, investing in street light dimming schemes and considering part-night lighting – which should of course be done in consultation with the local community and police – councils have a fantastic opportunity to limit the damage caused by light pollution, reduce carbon emissions and save money.”
See the interactive map showing people’s view of the night sky here
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