GLOBE at Night wants you to look up!

By Phil Plait | March 22, 2011 12:00 pm

[I made an error below, I had originally written that Orion was the target constellation, but it’s in fact Leo and Crux. I have updated this page.]

As I recently wrote, light pollution is a real problem. Wasted light from ground illumination goes into the sky, washing out the stars. But just how bad is it?

GLOBE at Night wants to find out. This is an international citizen-science project, trying to map the sky illumination over the entire populated planet. And they need your help!

It’s actually pretty easy. All you have to do is go outside and find Leo (if you are in the northern hemisphere) or Crux (if you’re in the southern). Then look at the stars and try to figure out the faintest ones you can see. Compare that to a GLOBE at Night star magnitude chart and then report your results.

That last link is actually designed to work with phones, too, so you can do this while on the go.

I like this project a lot. It’s simple, easy to do, and using Leo/Crux is smart: they’re both easily recognizable constellations. And the beauty of this project is that it has two outcomes. One is that it shows people just how bad the skies are getting, which is important. But it also simultaneously gets people to do one of my favorite activities of all time: looking up.

And if you’re a teacher, this is a great learning opportunity for your students, too!

GLOBE at Night is running two campaigns, time periods they want people to go out and do this: from March 22 (today) to April 4 in the northern hemisphere, and from March 24 to April 6 in the southern. So go outside and start observing!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Science

Comments (25)

  1. bigjohn756

    Around my neighborhood I’d be lucky to see the Sun if it were out at night. Really, on a good night I can sometimes see Venus or Jupiter, or, maybe Sirius if things are really good. People around here are so petrified of boogelers that they have lights illuminating their lights.

  2. Just a note: Orion was used for the first GLOBE at Night campaign. It gets a little low in the southwest this time of year, so the second campaign is using Leo (in the northern hemisphere) and Crux (in the southern hemisphere).

    The new charts at up on the website and in the reporting page.

  3. Maria

    This sounds interesting! I always feel a little sad when I look up some nights and realize that there’s precocious little to see compared to what we could. A light scattering of pin pricks and a few recognizable constellations depending how close I am to parking / industry.

    @bigjohn756 so true. “People around here are so petrified of boogelers that they have lights illuminating their lights.” You made laugh. In our area … people also illuminate their trees. Decorative flood lights mounted in tall tree tops, random branches lit up for the hell of it. Are they worried about tree jumping ninjas?

  4. davidlpf

    Before my mother put the dawn to dusk light in our yard I could Andromeda (the galaxy) in our drive way, now I have to go into the back field where the hous cast a shadow to see it. Also at times I think I can see a faint shade of black where some of the galaxies are located near the end of ursa major.
    EDITED TO ADD: The southern sky here is no the greatest because there are two small towns in that direction. Most of the light is blocked by a hill so at least it isn’t that bad.

  5. Qwert

    I remember during the last eclipse wowing my friend by pointing out the Big and Little Dippers. It was apparently the first time he ever remembered seeing them. It really is sad that we’re losing the stars.

  6. Helmholtz

    I’m guessing they are not taking dark adaptation into account. Are they just assuming participants will report their initial observations?

  7. Jenna

    Another interesting note, I recently read an article in National Geographic (from 2008… still trying to catch up!) about the other ill effects of Light Pollution. It turns out that the pollution is confusing the nocturnal and migratory animals so much that they are dying because of being thrown off cycle. Some are even forgetting or not realizing the time to reproduce!

    The animals that use the cover of darkness to hunt at night are now being preyed upon because they can be seen. How sad is this stuff! There are also studies linking too much light at night to women’s breast cancer. And the main argument that the writer brought up was that it is a problem so easily and quite cheepily fixed. Just new light fixtures and laws prohibiting certain types of light outside and the problem is solved!

    Here’s the link: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/light-pollution/klinkenborg-text

  8. NAW

    I really hate my southern sky right now. I have a baseball field with lights a going right now. Well all the time really.

  9. Lorena

    great project, I’ll see if I can do it with CRUX, since I think orion is not very visible nowadays in the southern hemisphere at least where I live

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    Well I saw that headline above & I looked up straight away. But :

    I) its cloudy, raining in fact.

    II) I’m inside so I just saw the ceiling &

    III) Its day time now anyhow! ;-)

    I’ll try this tonight if the sky clears – a very good idea. :-)

    @8. Lorena : Another good excercise for assessing light pollution is to count the stars *inside* the Great Square of Pegasus. Although that’s not up the moment conveniently either.

  11. Wzrd1

    Phil, I respectfully agree and disagree.
    While, it IS *HIGHLY* worthwhile to be able to look up and see stars and planets, there is a hitch.
    THIS planet is infested with a noisome species known as humanity.
    I have MY home in a not so good neighborhood. It’s paid for, ya know?
    So, I have a simple choice: Enjoy the great night sky, briefly, until my life is ended by an unseen criminal OR have loads and loads of lights. Those lights AND my concealed carry permit pistol have saved my life twice. Fortunately, it was DUE to that excess of light that both, I am standing here and the criminal is behind bars and not perforated by a small slug of lead moving at 872 feet per second.
    I SAW the mutt begin to approach more quickly AND reach under his jacket AND a glint of metal.
    Mine was out first and aimed rather low on his anatomy. He surrendered and consented to await the arrival of the local police to collect him and his illegal firearm to the jail.
    Twice.
    So, while I LOVE to see stars and planets, I KNOW the value of that evil light. It saves lives.
    YOUR mileage may hopefully vary.

  12. RwFlynn

    @10. Wzrd1

    You make a good enough point, but in the recent blog post Phil mentioned at the top of this one he said,

    “Well, think of it this way then: every photon directed into the sky is a photon not helping you see the ground. It’s wasted energy and wasted money. More efficient lighting systems — ones that direct all the light down instead of up — save a lot of money. In many cases all it takes is a cover or other sort of shade over the top of a street light. You’ll need fewer lights, too, again saving money.”

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/03/21/the-skies-at-night-are-too-darn-bright/

  13. Nigel Depledge

    Maria (3) said:

    Are they worried about tree jumping ninjas?

    Yes, you have to watch out for those tree-jumping ninjas!! Chop down all the trees – deprive the ninjas of their stealthy night-time highway!

  14. #10 Wzrd1:
    You seem to have completely missed the point. The definition of light pollution is light which is wasted by illuminating the sky. We do NOT want to get rid of lights; we simply want them to do what they are supposed to do, i.e. illuminate the ground, and not the sky.
    Your security lights would NOT have saved your life, had they been shining upwards into the sky, instead of into the grounds of your property.

  15. Nigel Depledge

    Wzrd1 (10) said:

    So, I have a simple choice: Enjoy the great night sky, briefly, until my life is ended by an unseen criminal OR have loads and loads of lights.

    No-one is suggesting getting rid of streetlighting (did you not see the previous thread on this topic? Phil links to it in his article).

    No, the suggestion is instead that we use lights that don’t send light directly up into the sky so that light pollution could potentially be (very roughly) halved, while retaining the same amount of light at street level.

  16. Nigel Depledge

    Heh. Neil, you beat me to it.

  17. Mary

    Phil, your magnitude 4 chart shows Orion. However, the links to the magnitude charts and the reporting link in your post have Regulus near the middle. Orio0n would be the best to use. Maybe I’m not looking right.

  18. Kevin

    I participate in GLOBE at Night each year. It’s easy, fun, and costs no money. :)

  19. Theramansi

    Make a trip to Flagstaff, AZ to see how light pollution is controllable.

  20. Nocturnal

    Question: Wouldn’t there be a lot of error in the Globe at Night results due to the variability in everyone’s eyesight? A young person with good eyes could probably see dimmer stars in a light-washed sky than an old geezer like me. Is there any way to correct for this variable?

  21. Buzz Parsec

    Bigjohn @ #1, don’t they know that just encourages crime? People sneak around stealing the lights!

    Maria @#3, Are you in Australia? Maybe they’re worried about drop bears?

  22. nermal2097

    This is a great idea. Especially as where I live you can just about see Orion and literally a handfull of other stars. It is so frustrating to see such a black sky. Still I do try to get my daughters to look up when they are out at night and see whats left of the stars.

  23. Maria

    @21 No. Southeastern US. It’s all purely decorative. …. But more efficient and well planned lighting would definitively cut down on hoop snake attacks. :D

  24. Cool project. We should all spend time with our eyes turned skyward. As an airline pilot, I do enjoy turning down the cockpit lights when we’re over the ocean. No light pollution there! The night sky needs no telescope to amaze and awe.

  25. Lorena

    I’m doing it tonight with crux. there are a few clouds in the sky, but according to the website, we have until april 6 10pm local time, so I have plenty of time to do it if I cant do it tonight!
    I love this type of things, easy to do, from home, something that we can do globally, from all around the world, and contribute to something important!

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