Why we should all be seeing stars in our skies
A University of Sussex scientist is calling on Sussex people to count stars as part of a campaign to reduce light pollution in our night skies.
Dr Darren Baskill, who is the Physics and Astronomy outreach officer for the University, is encouraging everyone to join in with the Orion star-count week - a joint initiative of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and the Campaign for Dark Skies, run by the British Astronomical Association.
The aim of Star Count Week (Monday 31 January - Sunday 6 February) is to encourage more efficient outdoor lighting and restore natural darkness to our nights. Weather forecasts suggest that the best chance might come with clearer skies on Thursday (3 February 2011) night.
Dr Baskill says: "A star count is a great excuse to go outside and enjoy the beautiful view of the night sky. But it also provides a way of assessing where the best places are to view the sky at night."
The star count involves going outdoors one night this week between 6pm and midnight and, when clear skies permit, counting the number of stars in a particular part of the night sky - in this case all the stars that you can see within the four corner stars of the constellation of Orion.
Instructions on how to locate Orion, and what to do once you've counted all the stars you can see with the naked eye, can be found on the Campaign for Dark Skies at www.britastro.org/dark-skies/starcount
Dr Baskill says: "From the information provided we'll be able to build a map of where the best places are to go star-gazing in the UK. Over the last 50 years, we have lost the once awe-inspiring view of a night sky full of stars simply due to excessive and inefficient lighting. Something that has inspired science and art for millennia is now unknown to the majority of us. I find that incredibly sad.
"The campaign is aiming to raise awareness of the problems caused by wasted lighting spilling into the night sky. Not only does such lighting prevent us from seeing a sky full of stars, but it also costs the UK an estimated £1bn in wasted energy. Excessive and inefficient lighting also has a major impact on public health and well being and on wildlife.
Light pollution causes problems for astronomers too. Dr Baskill had to take a trip to Hawaii last year to use the UK's infrared telescope. He says: "One reason that we have to place our telescopes in such remote areas is to get away from intrusive light pollution in the UK."
A similar star survey in 2006/07 showed that only two per cent of people who responded to the online survey said they could see more than 30 stars, compared to 54 per cent who saw fewer than ten stars in Orion - a level which indicates severe light pollution.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Sussex is ranked 5th in Great Britain and 37th in the world according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2010).
University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Daniëlle Treanor. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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