Title: GLOBE at Night: Shed Light on Light Pollution
Podcaster: Connie Walker
Organization: Globe at Night www.globe.gov/globeatnight/
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 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 7-10pm, March 16-28. Your measurements will make a world of difference. For more information, visit the website at www.globe.gov/globeatnight.
Bio: Connie Walker is an astronomer in the Education and Public Outreach group at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. She manages the GLOBE at Night program for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory since the program’s beginning in Tucson and La Serena, Chile. In addition, she chairs the Cornerstone Project on Dark Skies Awareness for the International Year of Astronomy. Her colleague in writing the podcast is Hillary Oswald a freelance writer from Denver, Colorado, and author of a good article on GLOBE at Night in the February 2009 issue of the magazine, Edutopia.
Today’s Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the AAS.
Welcome to the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast on GLOBE at Night: Shed Light on Light Pollution! This is your host, Connie Walker. In this podcast we discuss being part of a solution for light pollution by taking part in the GLOBE at Night Campaign to take back the night! The campaign dates to remember are March 16-28.
Did you know that for or the first time in human history, more than half of the world’s inhabitants live in cities? As urban environments grow, so do their impact on the global environment. People’s ability to view stellar constellations is obscured by ever-growing urban constellations. This disconnection from the night sky diminishes people’s opportunity to appreciate a valuable natural resource — one that has inspired scientists and poets alike for millennia.
Imagine the arc of the Milky Way as seen from a truly dark location. That glorious vista should be part of our cultural and natural heritage. However, would you believe that more than one-fifth of the world population, two-thirds of the United States population and one half of the European Union population can’t see the stars of the Milky Way arch across their night sky anymore?
What is the cause of this loss? Light pollution! Light pollution is too much outdoor light that causes a glow above a city, or more technically, it is excessive and inappropriate artificial light. It is a serious and growing threat. In the U.S. alone, 3 to 10 billion dollars each year is wasted on upward-directed light the escapes “unused” into space. Light pollution impacts astronomical research, the economy, ecology, energy conservation, human health, and public safety, as well as our shared ability to see the night sky. An over-lit car sales lot with lots of glare is one example of a source of light pollution.
What can be done to help people “see the light”? To spark public awareness, astronomers and educators came together in late 2005 and early 2006 to create an international star-hunting project for students, teachers, and the general public known as GLOBE at Night. This year, the annual event takes place March 16-28, each night from 7-10pm, when there will be no Moon and the Orion constellation will be visible to naked eyes from almost any location on Earth.
Through this program, we hope to encourage children 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.
GLOBE at Night is run by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and the nonprofit organization Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment or GLOBE. GLOBE is a projects-based, science education program with members in 110 countries.
How can you participate? The basic GLOBE at Night program is simple: On clear and moonless nights during the two-week campaign, students and people in general go outside at least an hour after sunset but before 10 pm local time and find the constellation, Orion, known for its three distinctive stars that make up Orion’s Belt.
You will see Orion toward the Southwest, one to three fists (at arm’s length) above your horizon. The stars are arranged like an hour glass: two at the top of the hour glass are Orion’s shoulders, the three Orion Belt stars at the waist of the hour glass and two stars at the bottom of the hour glass are Orion’s knees.
Students and the general public then compare what they see to seven stellar images depicting varying degrees of light pollution and choose the chart that most closely resembles what they see. The first chart has only a few stars (similar to light pollution seen from the middle of New York City). The last chart 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. Students and others may also elect to use a Sky Quality Meter, which quantitatively measures the brightness of the night sky.
Back at school or from home, students and others can log on to the GLOBE at Night Web site, identify their latitude and longitude, and report their observations (e.g., the chart they picked). GLOBE and ESRI (the Environmental Systems Research Institute) compile 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.
And guess what? Last year, GLOBE at Night collected more than 6,800 measurements of night-sky brightness from students in 62 countries! We anticipate even greater participation this year, especially since it is the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first peek through his rudimentary telescope. To honor the milestone, the United Nations declared 2009 the International Year of Astronomy, believe it or not, and this has prompted some school districts to expand their astronomy curricula and participate in GLOBE at Night.
In three different school communities, the power of grassroots efforts has taken hold. Hundreds and in some cases, thousands of students in grades 3 through 8 are participating in both the naked-eye observations toward Orion and in Sky Quality Meter measurements.
In northern Indiana, students are asking “How much of the night sky have we already lost?” After recording their observations, a team of about 70 students will plot their results on a local map and then present their findings to the school board in hopes of making improvements.
In Norman, Oklahoma the community of high schoolers, teachers, Boy Scouts, amateur astronomers, a few professional astronomers, and others have joined forces to canvas their town from East to West and North to South making measurements. They want to identify light pollution levels in commercial vs residential vs recreational zones in their city, also in hopes of making improvements.
In northeastern Connecticut, the students are partnering with students from Ohio, Canada, Wales and Romania, while learning about each others’ cultures. With the help of students from a local college, the 5th grade students will develop a map of their measurements to compare with results from last year.
Nancy Magnani, staff developer at the regional educational service center there, says they want these kids to understand that the sky is a natural resource we all share, so we all share responsibility for protecting it. She hopes their students look up during GLOBE at Night and think, “I wonder how this looks from Romania or Ohio.”
Data aside, educators and astronomers are hopeful that these 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 might take this data to Congress or to state legislatures to lobby for regulations on artificial light. And then imagine how great these students’ 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.globe.gov/globeatnight. 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.
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 2009 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.globe.gov/globeatnight. Links to other programs mentioned in this podcast along with a transcript of this podcast will be available at 365daysofastronomy.org/.
This is Connie Walker signing off, wishing you dark and clear skies ahead. Thanks for joining us! And happy star-hunting!
Web sites referenced in the podcast:
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365 Days of Astronomy
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