Date: February 3, 2010
Title: The GLOBE at Night Campaign: Our Light or Starlight?
Podcaster: Constance Walker
Description: Two out of every three people in the United States cannot see the Milky Way galaxy arch across a pristinely dark night sky. Light pollution is obscuring people’s long-standing natural heritage to view stars. GLOBE at Night is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by encouraging everyone everywhere to measure local levels of night sky brightness and contribute observations online to a world map. All it takes is a few minutes to participate between 8-10pm, March 3-16. Your measurements will make a world of difference. For more information, visit the website at www.globeatnight.org.
Bio: Connie Walker is an astronomer and science education specialist in the Education and Public Outreach (EPO) group at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, Arizona. She directs the GLOBE at Night program. In addition, she chaired the global cornerstone project on Dark Skies Awareness for the International Year of Astronomy. Rob Sparks is a science education specialist in the EPO group at NOAO as well. He works a lot on the Galileoscope project, providing design, dissemination and professional development and blogs at halfastro.wordpress.com. A,J. is a 6th grader, eager to learn about the world around him.
Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Kylie Sturgess of the Token Skeptic podcast, investigating superstitions and the science behind them at www.tokenskeptic.org.
The scene opens at a park (outdoors) on a clear, moonless evening away from city lights. Crickets make sounds in the background and owls hoot.
You hear a car door shut and a child saying:
CHILD: WOWWWWW! Look at the night sky! Are those all stars? I have never SEEN so many stars. I can’t even find the constellation, Orion, there are so many stars!
PARENT: Yup! It IS beautiful. And just wait a few minutes. Your eyes will adjust and you will notice even more stars.
CHILD: But why can’t we see as many stars from home, Mom?
PARENT: Well, let me show you. See this flashlight here? It’s a like a maglight. I am going to unscrew this top part so you can see the light bulb.
PARENT: Suppose I pretended it was a streetlight. I will hold it above your head and turn it on. Can you see as many stars now?
PARENT: Why is that?
CHILD: Too much light in the way.
PARENT: In cities many times there is more than enough light to light up the night. Too much light can make a sort of bright glow in the sky and so if we can see any stars it would only be the brightest stars. The fainter stars would get washed out by the bright glow in the sky.
CHILD: Heh, I thought that streetlights are supposed to light the ground beneath them. This one has a big dark circle underneath it.
PARENT: Yeah, there are some streetlights that are just like this flashlight, but guess what? I bet you can come up with an answer to this problem: how would you get the light from a streetlight to go down to the ground and not up into the sky? And the one rule is that you cannot turn off the streetlight!
CHILD: Hmmm… Can I turn the streetlight upside down?
PARENT: Now, A.J.. Can you really turn a streetlight upside-down?
CHILD: No, I guess not. …I KNOW!!! I can put my hand on top of the flashlight!
PARENT: That’s right. It would be like putting a cap on the streetlight. And look what happens. None of the light is going up anymore. All of the light is hitting the ground. You’re lighting where you want the light to go and not where you don’t need it. Congratulations!
CHILD: And people who are near the light won’t get run over by cars that can’t see them!
PARENT: Yes, there is the issue of safety for sure. …What if this light bulb was a 100 Watts, but now instead of light from the bulb going in all directions, all of the light just goes down toward the ground, because you capped the light bulb. Could we switch the bulb for one that does not use as much electricity?
PARENT: Then what would you be saving?
PARENT: Yes, or energy. You would not have to use as much energy. …What else would you be saving?
CHILD: Money! You would save money.
PARENT: That’s right. A 100 Watt light bulb costs more to run than a 50 Watt light bulb. And there is an added bonus: with your hand over the top part of the light, look up at the sky above. …You can see the stars…
CHILD: Yeah! Look at THOSE STARS!
(TWO OTHER SPEAKERS:)
6 out of every 10 people in the U.S., 5 out of 10 Europeans and 2 out of 10 people worldwide have never seen our Milky Way Galaxy arch across their night sky from where they live. And the problem of light pollution is quickly getting worse. Within a couple of generations in the U.S., only the national parks will have dark enough skies to see the Milky Way.
Too much outdoor lighting not only affects being able to see the stars, but also wastes energy and money, about 2 to 10 billion dollars a year. And it has been shown to cause sleep disorders in people and to disrupt the habits of animals like newly hatched sea turtles that try to find their way back into the ocean but are disoriented by streetlights.
Light pollution may be a global problem, but the solutions are local. To help people “see the light”, an international star-hunting program for students, teachers, and the general public was created called GLOBE at Night. GLOBE at Night is now in its 5th year and is hosted by the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
This year, the annual event takes place March 3-16, each night from 8-10pm, when there will be no Moon and the constellation, Orion, will be visible to naked eyes from almost any location on Earth. Everyone around the world is invited to participate.
Through this program, children and adults are encouraged to reconnect with the night sky and learn about light pollution and in doing so, become citizen scientists inspired to protect this natural resource. Teachers like the GLOBE at Night program, because it lends itself to cross-curricular learning: astronomy, geography, history, literature, and writing. The possibilities are great.
How can you participate? The basic GLOBE at Night program is simple: On clear and moonless nights during the two-week campaign, you go outside at least an hour after sunset but before 10 pm local time. Don’t stand under or near a light. Wait about 10 minutes for your eyes to get adjusted to the night sky. Then find the constellation, Orion, known for its three distinctive stars that make up Orion’s Belt.
You will see Orion toward the South at 8pm and toward Southwest by 10pm, two to three fists (at arm’s length) above your horizon. The stars in Orion are arranged like an hour glass: two stars at the top are Orion’s shoulders, the three stars in the middle are his belt and two stars at the bottom are Orion’s knees.
You then compare what you see to seven stellar images depicting varying degrees of light pollution and choose the chart that most closely resembles what you see. (The charts can be downloaded from the GLOBE at Night website at www.globeatnight.org.) The first chart has only a few stars (similar to light pollution seen from the middle of New York City). The last chart (#7) shows lots and lots of stars (as seen from a National Park). The charts show progressively fainter stars and therefore more of them, providing a good indication of local light pollution levels. You may also elect to use a Sky Quality Meter, which quantitatively measures the brightness of the night sky. (See www.unihedron.com for more information.)
After observing, you can log on to the GLOBE at Night Web site, identify the date and time you took the observation, identify your observation location in terms of latitude and longitude with a website tool, and report your observations (e.g., the chart you picked). And that is all. ESRI (the Environmental Systems Research Institute) compiles the information and produces maps for the world to see and teachers to use in lessons about population density, light pollution, geography, and related topics.
Educators and astronomers are hopeful that young stargazers will ultimately draw the same conclusion about their world: The night sky is an irreplaceable natural resource that’s worth protecting. One day we can take this data to Congress or to state legislatures to advocate for regulations on artificial light. And then imagine how great the impact will be!
To learn the five easy steps to participate in the GLOBE at Night program and to obtain important information on light pollution, stellar magnitudes, the mythology of Orion, how to find Orion, how to obtain your latitude and longitude, and how to use a Sky Quality Meter, please see www.globeatnight.org. All information needed to participate is on the GLOBE at Night Web site, along with downloadable activity guides. The guides have the steps for participating in the program, the different star charts, reporting form and more.
Should you be interested in other activities that have children explore what light pollution is, what its effects are on wildlife and how to prepare for participating in the GLOBE at Night campaign, see the new activities at www.darkskiesawareness.org/DarkSkiesRangers.
Last year, GLOBE at Night collected more than 15,000 measurements of night-sky brightness from kids and adults in 70 countries! Help us exceed these numbers this year!
Monitoring our environment will allow us as citizen-scientists to identify and preserve the dark sky oases in cities or catch an area developing too quickly and influence people to make responsible choices in lighting. All it takes is a few minutes during the March 2010 campaign to measure sky brightness and contribute those observations on-line. Your measurements will make a world of difference.
For more information, visit the GLOBE at Night website at www. globeatnight.org. A transcript of this podcast will be available at 365daysofastronomy.org/.
This is Connie Walker, Rob Sparks and A.J. signing off, wishing you dark and clear skies ahead. Thanks for joining us! And happy star-hunting!
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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