Dark skies in England

The Campaign to Protect Rural England is asking people to help measure how dark England’s skies are. To participate, you look for the constellation Orion and see how many stars you can count inside it without using binoculars or a telescope. Only you have to do it sometime between this exact minute and February 23.

And if this exact minute happens to be noon? You wait till after 7 pm because night is when it gets dark.

Do I have to explain everything?

The best time to do this is the first week of February, when there’ll be less light from the moon. You also want to wait for a good clear night, otherwise the exercise is pointless. If you see ten or fewer stars (not counting the corner stars), you’re in a light-polluted area. Thirty or more is dark, dark, dark.

To find Orion, you read the article I linked to above, because there’s no point in me repeating it, then you take a look at the photo in this one, which gives you a better idea of what Orion looks like and where the corner stars are. Then you go back to the first site and report your findings.

The point of the exercise is to raise awareness of light pollution, which according the campaign interferes with sleep patterns in humans and messes with wildlife, and to get localities to modify their lighting as much as possible.

The point of me writing about this is that it’s good to know that someone cares, and that people can pitch in. Even though, I admit, it’s a long way from being the biggest problem we face.

74 thoughts on “Dark skies in England

  1. It’s not the first of April already, is it? What exactly is ‘light pollution’ anyway? Presumably it means that if, like me, you live in a built up area there are streetlights so that we can see where we’re stumbling when boozed out of our skulls, and to deter those gangs of marauding immigrants that the nice Mr Ukip keeps warning us about. Brexit should solve both problems though: all those foreigners will have left the country or been expelled, and councils won’t be able to afford street lighting so our view of the night sky should be perfect. Except for clouds. What will they be doing about cloud pollution?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The darkest place I’ve been in England was on a canal boat in the middle of nowhere. Here in Bournemouth we have had our street lights changed to LED so they shine down, I miss the cosy yellow of the old lights, but I think the idea would work if we weren’t outshone by security lights on people’s houses which are more like prison search lights!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s true that if all the streetlights are adapted to scatter less light upward we’d still need to deal with individual outside lighting. I liked the cosier ones too, but they use a lot more power, I’m sure, than LED.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes, there are bigger problems, but that doesn’t mean this is a small one. The environmental impact of light pollution is pretty horrifying … and filled with really sad stories, like the turtles on some island somewhere near enough to a city to be confused by the light. Apparently the mama turtles come on shore and lay their eggs and then turtle off, and in the fullness of time the baby turtles dig their way out of the nest, always at night, and look UP to see where the light is glowiest. Sans city, that would be in the direction of the ocean, not too far away. But because of the city, the babies head away from the ocean across the island, and die. So from their point of view it’s a pretty freakin’ big problem. And then there are the human babies who are growing up stupid and stunted for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is lack of SLEEP. And – last (on my personal list) but definitely not least, there’s my asshole neighbor who bought a piece of land OUT IN THE BOONDOCKS where it’s DARK, erected a trailer, and put floodlights on top of the trailer to light up his entire three acres (and, light being no respecter of property boundaries, the entire surrounding area) because he is being stalked by Mormons. True story. I mean about the neighbor … and the turtles … not sure about the Mormons.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. But I have to question their rather unscientific methods as stated since some people obviously have clearer vision than others. So, should we assume that folks who have cataracts or are over a certain age are excluded from taking part? Sorry to nitpik. :-)

    Liked by 3 people

    • My partner, with her macular degeneration, has already excluded herself, as I expect other people would do. The system doesn’t have the virtue of absolute certainty (what if people make up their count? what if they don’t know where they are?) but it does have the virtue of having access to lots of volunteers.

      Liked by 3 people

    • How often I’ve seen people (who were then the age I am now, or over) confuse their slowly declining vision with the slowly declining visibility caused by air & light pollution. “There used to be a cluster of stars where that bright one is now.” “I still see the cluster actually.” “So how many stars d’you see in it? Three? Well there used to be…”

      There used to be seven Pleiades. I know because I counted. But even in the 1920s some were saying one was invisible (only not to me, up to about age 25), and now there *are* only five, visible–I know because I counted. It is possible that some younger people still see seven.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Maybe young people see seven, but maybe someone’s out there stealing our stars. I think that’s much more likely.

        In a saner vein, you’re right about the way these things creep up on you. How many people over the age of I’m not sure what say, “Young people today don’t speak clearly”?

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I live in a metro area. I can see four or five of those stars. Miss seeing the stars I could see growing up in the country.

    Too much light is a problem, not so much for humans but for many kinds of animals.

    Progress of man.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Like I’d ever be able to figure out how to find stars…….
    I once saw the stars up close, in Switzerland in the Alps the first time I saw it there they looked massive. It actually freaked me out.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. A few decades ago, we bought a tiny property on chincoteague island, a barrier island off Virginia’s Eastern Shore, as a weekend retreat. Our life was in Philadelphia at the time and I looked forward to walks on the beach during the day and staring at the stars at night, something we very much could not do on a well-lit Philly street. I can still feel my disappointment when I discovered our neighbor a few doors down, an old time Chincoteague good old boy, had installed a veritable city street light that shone brightly down half the street. As I talked with him, I realized he’d done it out of fear, and I wasn’t going to be able to convince him of the majesty of the night sky. I commend the good people of your land for their forethought. And I thank you for sharing. I’m sharing with former chincoteague neighbors.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Light pollution is indeed a problem, although as you say, not the most pressing one. One of my clients is developing streetlights that are bat-friendly, as a lot of current lights dissuade bats from crossing roads to feeding grounds. They also have bird-friendly lights that don’t affect birds migrating over the sea (the lights are put on oilrigs).

    Liked by 3 people

    • Is that Orion in New Zealand? I’m hopeless about what you can see from where and assume the Orion-like belt I saw when I was there must be something else because, well, being in the opposite hemisphere must be like looking out the back window of a house instead of the front: You see different things.

      Okay, science wasn’t my strength when I was in school. I fled it as soon as I was allowed. Speaking of which, being upside down may be sending the blood to his head, making him brighter. I should try it myself.

      The reason I liked the photo was that it let me see the four corner stars, which I’d need if we ever lose enough clouds to let me count stars inside the constellation.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. On my last trip to Hawaii we went to the big island. There, all the street lights are yellow and point down, and have shields to prevent excess light from shining up. Why? To reduce light pollution for the observatories on Mauna Kea. The odd color of the lights was a little disconcerting, but the night sky was amazing. One night we went up on the volcano so there were no trees to block the view, and saw one of the most amazing night skies I’ve ever seen.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Ok, Ellen, so I don’t usually follow the new Follows on my blog, but you win the prize for most clever gravatar and for this post. We are sky watchers and regularly curse the light pollution here in Florida. The Milky Way! Oh, we miss that! There are communities here that do the down-lighting thing, but not enough. Hearing birds singing at 3 a.m. says it all. Preach it, baby, preach it!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I live in a small village, where you’d expect the visibility to be good, and I went into our backyard on the only clear night we’ve had since I posted this (Britain’s at least as rainy as you think it is). I couldn’t even make out Orion’s sword, just the belt and the corner stars. True, we live on what’s called an estate–British for a subdivision. It’s the only part of the village with street lighting, and I guess that’s what kills it. It’s very nice when you’re coming home in the dark or getting up in the middle of the night, but it’s a problem all the same. I’m hoping to get another clear night to go up on the nearby moor to see what’s visible. Today, unfortunately, is gray again and doesn’t look promising.

      Liked by 3 people

    • I’m flattered, really I am, but I don’t do blogging awards. I try to keep a tight focus on Britain (and I don’t entirely succeed), and blog awards, inevitably, pull people in all sorts of directions. I know some bloggers manage to put notices on the front of their blogs announcing that, but I’ve never managed to pull that off. So with thanks and apologies, I’m going to duck.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Somewhere I have seen a map of the whole world with an index of how dark the night sky is. Much of the night sky has been polluted by “light” since I was a boy on a farm in rural Illinois. It never really gets dark at night at home here any more. There is of course no solution. Unless everyone turns out their lights like in the blitz and covers their curtains, and I don’t see that happening!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. In the 1990s a newcomer to Arlington, Virginia, made “News of the Weird” by refusing to believe the loud bird whistle outside the apartment block was actually coming from a bird. “I know mockingbirds don’t sing at night.” Police apparently had to point to the mockingbirds…A few years ago I heard a mockingbird in tiny Duffield, Virginia, after midnight, pouring out his soul. Not realizing it wasn’t time for him to be awake.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Decades ago, a mockingbird sang outside my parents’ house (one block north of New York City). It was an extension of their range and my mother was half-convinced that she was losing her mind. Birds don’t sing at night. Anyway, I just googled “mockingbirds nocturnal singing” and unearthed the information that they do sing at night in the spring and summer, regardless of streetlights or darkness. Lord Google also thought I might want to know how to stop mockingbirds from singing at night.

      I didn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

          • My mother spent a winter with a patient who was always misplacing her cell phone, and with a mockingbird who lived outside and would imitate the phone well enough to make the patient scramble around the house.

            After the Brood X cicadas died off in Washington, in 2004, I watched a mockingbird join a mixed group of birds sitting on a fence and make a noise like a cicada. Sure enough, made another insectivore look!

            I suspect they really do some of their “mocking” with the intention of annoying other lifeforms…

            Liked by 1 person

    • It made me think about how few I can see from my backyard. I live in a part of Britain that has relatively dark skies but on a small development with street lights, so what we see when we let the dogs out one last time at night is only the brightest ones.

      Liked by 1 person

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