The fifth GLOBE at night is on!

By Phil Plait | March 9, 2010 3:00 pm

How often do you go outside and look up? I mean really, just look up at the sky and stars?

With more and more people living in cities, and light pollution still a major problem, it seems that a smaller percentage of people actually get to see the stars. That’s why the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) started the GLOBE at night program, an effort to get folks outside and get them to appreciate the night sky.

The program is actually pretty simple: all you have to do is go outside and look at Orion, and compare the stars in the constellation you can see with maps showing progressively fainter stars. This tells you your "magnitude limit" which in turn s tells you how bad light pollution is in your area. You can then submit your findings on the GLOBE at Night website, where they are compiled and mapped.

It doesn’t matter if you live in the middle of the Sahara or in downtown NYC. In fact, the more people who submit their results the better, so that the GaN folks can get really good coverage of the planet. Not only does this help you get a feel for the sky and for light pollution, but it helps astronomers keep track of wasted light as well.

Light pollution destroys our view of the sky, but it also represents a lot of energy totally wasted. Cities, towns, everyone can save a lot of money by installing more efficient lighting — you can find out more at the Dark Sky Rangers site. Projects like GLOBE at Night will help a lot of people realize that, too.

The project goes from now until March 16, and the website has everything you need to get started, including resources for teachers, parents, and students. Give it a shot!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (26)

  1. Queen B

    “but it helps astronomers keep track of wasted light as well.”

    what is wasted light in that context?


    Phil Plait:

    Cities, towns, everyone can save a lot of money by installing more efficient lighting…

    Try telling that to my goddamn neighbour who is in the habit of leaving his 500-watt halogen floodlight on all bloody night in his backyard! ūüĎŅ

  3. Joseph
  4. Thanks for the shout out about GLOBE at Night. I would just like to add that you can take more than one data point. Take one at home, when you go out to dinner, at the movie theater. etc. The more data collected from more sites, the better.

  5. I used to look up at the sky but got tired of tripping.

  6. John Paradox

    I used to check the sky each morning pre-sunrise when I worked at a radio station that was located outside the light pollution of Tucson, and always was impressed by Orion. Also, the town of Sahuarita, south of Tucson, was very active in Dark Skies… they opposed the local Safeway wanting to increase the lighting in their parking lot. (Also rather ironic, since the adjacent ‘bedroom community’ of Green Valley is retirees, who tend to go to bed earlier than most people)


  7. DaveS

    I was listening to Colorado Public Radio the other day, and they were talking about the budget problems in Colo Springs, and cutting back on street lighting there. They interviewed an astronomer who claimed that the low–pressure sodium street lighting is “ugly” and intrudes on
    astronomy, and welcomed the turning-off.

    BUT, I distinctly remember when I lived in San Diego, the news talked about what a boon low-pressure sodium lighting was to astronomy, since it was monochrome and could be filtered, unlike white lights.

    Was that not *really* an astronomer on the radio, perhaps?

  8. G

    I live 20-ish minutes from a small city, and when we moved here we could see a lot of stars at night. Something has been put in between us and the city, though, that leaves a lot of lights on overnight. And now one of my 6 total neighbors has put in a street lamp at his driveway, that he leaves on all night.

    Grumble. We still go outside and admire the stars at night, but we can’t see nearly so many.

  9. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @5. Lugosi Says:

    I used to look up at the sky but got tired of tripping.

    I don’t think you’re supposed to walk as you look up somehow! You can stand still, sit down or even lie back and stargaze too, y’know. ūüėČ

    Light pollution is an issue which I think could be improved by communicating with the neighbours, councils and general public. I think some (most?) of the glaring-light-happy neighbours mentioned here might simply be unaware of the problem they’re causing us astronomers? I wonder if inviting them for a star-gazing session, showing tehm the sky through telescopes, binoculars and unaided eyes and gently explaining the situation to them might be a good idea?

    My local astronomical society has a Light Pollution sub-group & officer too so if yours does also joining up & taking collective action might help too.

  10. We’re taking out Dark Skies, Bright Kids kids (that’s redundant) out for their first family observing night on the 12th, weather permitting! Hoping we can show them the activity, and do it there or have them do it at home with their parents. Doesn’t hurt that they live in one of the darkest spots in the East (hence the DS in DSBK!)

  11. katwagner

    We also are out in the county, but our neighbor (across our field) has a light on all night to keep the deer & elk from eating his hay. So he sez. And we have a neighbor 2+ miles away who keeps his yellow light on all night. We’re up on a bench so it shines in our bedroom. The county is working on a Dark Skies ordinance mostly because a local doctor/astronomer is pushing it. The idea is to have downcast light that doesn’t go past the perimeter of your property, but the county commission wants Dark Skies to apply only to new housing developments. So we keep writing letters. But we still have really cool dark skies & I’m always amazed; we sit on our patio & just look. But I say, if you’re so scared of the dark, move back to town!

  12. David

    Submitted our info tonight. Nice and clear north of Dallas this evening. Thanks Phil.

  13. Jess Tauber

    On the TV show 60 Minutes a few weeks back they showed a new fuel cell that was supposed to be able to cut power use significantly. Unfortunately the inventors stated goal was to bring light to all the poor areas of the world without electricity. Just great, no more dark sites anywhere. Add reduced fuel costs and more folks will leave their klieg-lights on at all hours.

    Well, Phil, at least we can see glimpses of the sky here on Badastronomy….

  14. Univeral

    indeed phil :)

    anyway more good news the bbc has a new horizon all about dark flow baby.

    here’s the iplayer link

    Is Everything We Know About The Universe Wrong?

    Dark flow is the latest in a long line of phenomena that have threatened to re-write the textbooks. Does it herald a new era of understanding, or does it simply mean that everything we know about the universe is wrong?


  15. Dawn

    I’m going to give this a try tonight, weather permitting.

  16. DC sucks as far as light pollution goes.

  17. Steve

    I wonder how results would vary for people from the fall to the spring? I’m on Long Island, NY. A few months ago when Orion was more towards the south it’s very visible from my yard. This time of year it’s back towards NYC and significantly less visible.

  18. Mike

    Darn. I was out stargazing Saturday night but didn’t know about this. Now we’re in an extended rain event. From memory, looking at the charts, I’m pretty sure I get magnitude 5 in Madison WI.

  19. bigjohn756

    This GLOBE business began on March 3rd. I’m so astute that I didn’t find out ’till today. Oh, well, better late than never.

  20. Yojimbo

    Stars? At night? No – we don’t have those in Seattle.

  21. Thanks for writing about this, I’ll definitely contribute. I live in an area that not only has bad light pollution but also regular perennial cl0ud cover which makes star-gazing a frustrating activity. It’s a far cry from where I lived in my youth (Africa) where the night sky was like an eternal celestial cabaret.

  22. I am always amazed at how visible the stars are in most of San Francisco. It’s only the brightest ones, of course, as well as the planets, but whenever I need to commune with the universe I can just go onto the roof of my condo with my Galileoscope and get a quick fix.

  23. bigjohn756

    I went outside and looked up tonight. Got rain in my eyes. Can’t see any stars with rain in your eyes.

  24. !AstralProjectile

    Carl Sagan wrote a great smackdown on light pollution and those in affluent neighborhoods who won’t accept low pressure sodium bulbs because “It makes your skin look sallow.”

    His response was something like: “I doubt there is much late-night carousing in those neighborhoods.”

  25. sylva333

    How can they attribute it to just light pollution and not pollution in general?

    I know Salt Lake has this problem, not just light pollution. When there is inversion and the air pollution is bad it makes a big difference in looking at the stars. Does anyone know if they are taking this into account (I couldn’t find this).


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