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The cosmic census

Countryside charity CPRE is inviting everyone to take part in Star Count 2019 to help map our magical dark skies
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Constellation of Orion

Star Count 2019, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), gives people the opportunity to become citizen scientists by taking part in a cosmic census that will help to map our dark skies.

The nationwide Star Count, which is also supported by the British Astronomical Association, goes live today, and will run for the first three weeks of February (Saturday 02 February to Saturday 23 February).

Stargazers, whether in town or countryside, will be asked to count the number of stars they can see (with the naked eye) within the constellation of Orion, which is only visible in the winter months.

‘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.’

UK coordinator of the British Astronomical Association Commission for Dark Skies

Light pollution

As well as promoting dark skies and engaging people in the wonders of stargazing, CPRE wants to highlight the blight that light pollution – an issue that’s often overlooked – is causing our dark skies, and its subsequent impact on people and nature.

As well as preventing people from enjoying the beauty of a starry sky, light pollution can seriously disrupt wildlife behaviour and badly affect people’s sleeping patterns, impacting on physical and mental health and wellbeing.

‘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 for all of humanity. 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.’

Dark skies campaigner at CPRE

How to take part in the star count

Try to pick a clear night for your count; CPRE will accept results taken from Saturday 02 February until Saturday 23 February, but the best time to do the count is the week beginning 02 February, when the moon is smallest and the skies are darkest.

Once you’ve found your spot:

  • Looking south into the night sky, find the Orion constellation, with its four corners and ‘three-star belt’.
  • Take a few moments to let your eyes adjust, then simply count the number of stars you can see within the rectangle made by the four corner stars. You should not count the corners, but you can count the three stars in the middle – the belt.
  • Make a note of the number of stars seen with the naked eye (not with telescopes or binoculars) and then submit your results on CPRE’s online survey form.

To give you an idea, if you see less than 10 stars, this indicates severe light pollution, and if you can see over 30 stars, you’re looking at a truly dark sky.

Where are our darkest skies?

The countryside charity will use the results from Star Count 2019 to create a new map to show how light pollution is affecting the nation’s views of the night sky.

CPRE’s Night Blight maps, based on satellite data, showed that just 22% 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, CPRE will be able to provide more detailed and up-to-date information on the impact that light pollution is having on people’s experience of dark skies.

Using 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.

Click here to find out more about the CPRE Star Count.

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