Star count

Given GPS’s accuracy and ease of use, there is little mystery as to why celestial navigation has been relegated to something of a curiosity — a backup navigation method that few practice and even fewer are taking time to learn. This could mean that the average voyager only has a hazy knowledge of the stars and constellations. The National Center for Atmospheric Research has just announced a program for kids, families and amateur scientists that will give people a chance to look heavenward again.

The Great Worldwide Star Count will have people all over the globe counting stars between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15 (the constellation cygnus the swan is shown here). Their results will be tallied online. When the numbers are in, scientists will have data on the extent of light pollution from around the world. 

From the press release: The event, which is free and open to everyone who wants to participate, is organized by the Windows to the Universe project at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), in conjunction with planetariums and scientific societies across the country and abroad. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation.

“This is an important event that brings families together to enjoy the night skies and become involved in science,” says Dennis Ward of UCAR’s Office of Education and Outreach, who is one of the event coordinators. “It also raises awareness about the impact of artificial lighting on our ability to see the stars.”

Participants in the Northern Hemisphere will look for the constellation Cygnus, while those in the Southern Hemisphere will look for Sagittarius. They will then match their observations with magnitude charts downloaded from the Great World Wide Star Count Web site (see below). The Web site also contains more information about the event, including instructions for finding the constellations, and it links to background about astronomy on the Windows to the Universe Web site.

Participants in overcast areas who cannot see stars will be able to input data about cloud conditions instead.

Thousands of observers in dozens of countries are expected to take part. Participants may make observations outside their homes or go to less developed areas where more stars are visible.

Bright outdoor lighting at night is a growing problem for astronomical observing programs around the world. By searching for the same constellations, participants in the Great World Wide Star Count will be able to compare their observations with what others see, giving them a sense of how star visibility varies from place to place. The observers will also learn more about the economic and geographic factors that control the light pollution in their communities and around the world.

“Without even being aware of it, many of us have lost the ability to see many stars at night,” Ward says. “The Great World Wide Star Count will help raise awareness of the importance and the beauty of the night skies.”   

By Ocean Navigator