Look to the skies above Northumberland for cosmic census

Readers are being invited to look up to the night sky this month as part of one of the biggest starlight surveys in years.

Thursday, 7th February 2019, 08:22 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 17:11 pm
What to look for: The rectangular arrangement of the corner stars of Orion, with the three stars of the belt across the middle.

Star Count 2019 is giving everyone the chance to become ‘citizen scientists’ by taking part in an experiment to find where skies are darkest and which areas suffer most from light pollution.

Organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), it is asking people to look at Orion with the naked eye and count how many stars they can see within the rectangular constellation.

Colin Adsley, chairman of CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) Northumberland.

The nationwide Star Count, supported by the British Astronomical Association, is live now and runs up until Saturday, February 23.

Although there is interest in the Northumberland’s profoundly dark skies, statisticians are equally interested in the views from cities and towns.

CPRE also hopes the survey will particularly catch the imagination of the young.

Colin Adsley, chairman of CPRE Northumberland, said: “We are lucky in parts of Northumberland to have some of the darkest skies in Europe and it would be great to see families using this as a way to study the skies together. How many stars you will see ultimately depends upon the level of light pollution in your area, but by counting stars and mapping our dark skies together, we can fight back against light pollution and reclaim the night sky.”

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 previous Night Blight map, based on satellite data, showed just 22% of England was untouched by light pollution.

It also found that more than half of our darkest skies are over National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Using information gathered from the Start Count, CPRE plan to work with local and national Government to ensure appropriate lighting is used only where it’s needed – helping to reduce carbon emissions, save money, and protect and enhance our dark skies.

* Do your count on a night when the sky is clear and wait until after 7pm so the sky is really dark.

* Look south, find the Orion constellation, with its four corners and ‘three-star belt’. Allow some time to let your eyes adjust, then count the number of stars you can see with the naked eye (no binoculars) within the rectangle made by the four corner stars.

* Do not count the corners, but you can count the three stars in the middle (the belt).

* Complete the survey form: www.cpre.org.uk/starcount* Share your experiences with others on social media using #starcount2019 @CPRE @BritAstro