Public asked to count stars to help map the night sky

Members of the public are being asked to take part in a star count to help map England’s dark skies and assess the problem of light pollution.

Stargazers in towns and the countryside are being urged to count the number they can see with the naked eye within the constellation of Orion, which is only visible in the winter months, for the ‘citizen science’ project.

The star count, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and supported by the British Astronomical Association, will run for the first three weeks of February.

The citizen science project asks people to count all the stars they can see within the constellation of Orion (CPRE/PA)
The citizen science project asks people to count all the stars they can see within the constellation of Orion (CPRE/PA)

CPRE said the scheme, aimed to promote dark skies, will engage people in the wonders of stargazing and highlight the problem of light pollution and its impact on people and wildlife.

Light pollution prevents people from enjoying the beauty of a starry sky, affects people’s sleeping patterns and can disrupt wildlife behaviour and, the conservation charity said.

The star count will be used to create a new map to show how light pollution is affecting people’s views of the night sky.

It follows from CPRE’s “night blight” maps based on satellite data, which show that less than a quarter (22%) of England is untouched by light pollution and more than half the country’s darkest skies are over national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Through the count, CPRE said it will be able to provide more up-to-date and detailed information on the impact that light pollution is having on people’s experience of dark skies.

The charity aims to work with local and national Government to ensure appropriate lighting is used only where it is needed, to help reduce carbon emissions, save money and protect the dark skies.

More than half of England's darkest skies are over national parks such as here in Exmoor National Park, or areas of outstanding natural beauty (Ben Birchall/PA)
More than half of England's darkest skies are over national parks such as here in Exmoor National Park, or areas of outstanding natural beauty (Ben Birchall/PA)

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 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.”

Bob Mizon, UK coordinator of the British Astronomical Association commission for dark skies, said: “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 they are helping to counter the light pollution that has veiled the starry skies for most Britons for the last few decades.”

Star Count 2019 runs from Saturday February 2 to Saturday February 23.