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May 2006

New program is a star

GLOBE at Night organizers (left to right): Randy Russell, Dennis Ward, Susan Gallagher, and Kirsten Meymaris (all from UCAR); Dave Salisbury (University of Colorado); and Sandra Henderson (UCAR).

The stars have come out for a new GLOBE initiative.

The organizers of GLOBE at Night, which recruited schoolchildren worldwide to make observations of the night sky in March, say the event was such a success that it will be held again next year. “The participation of school­children, families, and citizen scientists across the country and around the world was incredible,” says EO’s Sandra Henderson, director of GLOBE education. “This is definitely an event that we can build upon.”

More than 18,000 people in 96 countries took part in the program, which was held during the first days of spring (March 22–31). They gazed skyward on at least one evening, looked for the constellation Orion, and shared their observations through the Internet. The findings can help scientists map light pollution around the world.

GLOBE at Night was designed to promote family involvement in science. Participants used their observations of Orion to measure the brightness of the sky at a variety of urban and rural sites. “This event was useful in teaching about the impact of artificial lighting on local environments and in raising awareness about the ongoing loss of people’s ability to study or simply enjoy the night sky in many parts of the world,” explains EO’s Dennis Ward, who helped coordinate the event and contributed to the GLOBE at Night Web site.

Kirsten Meymaris, GLOBE at Night project coordinator, explains that the program will be expanded to gather more information about variations in the night sky. “We see this year’s observations as a beginning,” she says. “We hope to increase the level of participation next year and focus on specific regions, such as dense cities and sparsely populated rural areas, to gain more insights into the impact of artificial lighting.”

The program also aimed to teach young participants about the economic and geographic factors that affect light pollution in their communities and around the world. In many Colorado mountain towns, for example, where residents and visitors want to see stars clearly at night, local ordinances restrict the amount of light that can be aimed skyward.

One of the program’s highlights was a Mesa Lab star party on March 23 that drew dozens of people. The family event featured a discussion about Orion, stargazing tips, and children’s crafts activities such as outlining the shape of Orion with glow-in-the-dark puffy paint. SCD’s Leonard Sitongia shared his telescope for star viewing.

March 2007

Next year’s program will take place March 8–21. It will encompass two weekends, enabling more people to make observations. In addition, Kirsten says it will include a cloud estimate component so that people who live in overcast areas, such as the Pacific Northwest, can take part even if they don’t see stars. “If participants go outside and look at the night sky and see nothing but clouds, I want them to feel like they can still make a contribution,” she explains.

GLOBE at Night was inspired in part by a similar project carried out in Arizona and Chile by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and the Centro de Apoyo a la Didáctica de la Astronomía (Support Center for the Teaching of Astronomy), which were cosponsors of GLOBE at Night. Other cosponsors were the GIS software and technology firm ESRI and the UCAR-based Windows to the Universe program. UCAR Communications helped the program organizers publicize the event.

Astronomers have already begun to analyze the GLOBE at Night observations. Mapped results can be explored using the GLOBE at Night Map Viewer, built with support from ESRI (see On the Web). A student exploration guide is in development for the Map Viewer to help students navigate observations from different parts of the world.

Light pollution is a growing problem for astronomical observing programs around the world. According to the International Dark-Sky Association, some 30% of all U.S. outdoor lighting is directed skyward, contaminating the night sky and costing at least $1.5 billion in electricity per year.

• by David Hosansky

On the Web

More about GLOBE at Night, including the Map Viewer

In this issue...

Notes from the field: Turbulence and pollution

Terrorism and climate change

New program is a star

Peter Gilman wins Hale Prize

At the helm of ESSL

New Digital Image Library

Just One Look


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