How dark are Cheshire’s skies?
Have you been inspired by the BBC’s recent ‘Stargazing Live’ series, hosted locally at Jodrell Bank, to get out into your back garden and get more familiar with the heavens?
While you are out there, why not take part in an experiment being run by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Campaign for Dark Skies (CfDS) to see how dark our skies are?
The charities are calling for citizen scientists to count the number of stars they can see within the constellation of Orion on a clear night between Monday 31st January and Sunday 6th February, and complete an online form or submit their results by post; the results will help to create a Star Count Map illustrating how light pollution is affecting the view of the night sky.
Emma Marrington, Rural Policy Campaigner at CPRE, says: “Light pollution damages the character of the countryside, blurs the distinction between town and country, and denies people the experience of a dark, starry sky. But this isn’t just about the effect on star gazing or countryside. Light pollution can disrupt wildlife and badly affect people’s sleeping patterns.
“The Star Count survey will help us measure the extent of light pollution. We want to use this evidence to convince Ministers and local councils of the need to take action to tackle it, for example by ensuring that the correct lighting is used only where it is needed and when it is needed. This would cut light pollution, reduce carbon emissions and save money at the same time. Some local authorities are already taking action to tackle light pollution in their areas, we need more to do the same.”
In recent years, light pollution has been a growing problem, with more and more of the UK left without a clear view of the night sky. Earlier this year a CPRE/CfDS survey found eight out of ten people (83 per cent) had their view of the night sky affected by light pollution . Councils spend a collective £532 million on street lighting each year  and the lights can account for around 5‐10 per cent of a council’s carbon emissions .
Bob Mizon, Campaign for Dark Skies Coordinator, says: “The light from distant stars and galaxies takes hundreds , thousands even millions of years to reach our eyes. What a tragedy to lose it on the last millisecond of its journey!”
In 2006/07 nearly 2 ,000 people took part in the CPRE/CfDS Star Count Week. In that year, only two per cent of respondents said they could see more than 30 stars in Orion, compared with 54 per cent who saw fewer than 10 – a level which indicates severe light pollution. The results from the next Star Count Week will allow researchers to see whether light pollution is continuing to get worse or if there has been an improvement. It is very straightforward to take part in Star Count Week 2011.
Full instructions are available below and will be on the CPRE website from 10 January 2011 www.cpre.org.uk/starcount.