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Thousands of Schoolchildren Around the World to Help Map Star Visibility in October

September 13, 2007

BOULDER—Schoolchildren, families, and citizen scientists around the world will gaze skyward after dark from October 1 to 15, looking for specific constellations and then sharing their observations through the Internet. The initiative, called the Great World Wide Star Count, will help scientists map light pollution globally while educating participants about the stars.

The event, which is free and open to everyone who wants to participate, is organized by the Windows to the Universe project at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), in conjunction with planetariums and scientific societies across the country and abroad. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation.

"This is an important event that brings families together to enjoy the night skies and become involved in science," says Dennis Ward of UCAR's Office of Education and Outreach, who is one of the event coordinators. "It also raises awareness about the impact of artificial lighting on our ability to see the stars."

Participants in the Northern Hemisphere will look for the constellation Cygnus, while those in the Southern Hemisphere will look for Sagittarius. They will then match their observations with magnitude charts downloaded from the Great World Wide Star Count Web site (see below). The Web site also contains more information about the event, including instructions for finding the constellations, and it links to background about astronomy on the Windows to the Universe Web site.

Magnitude 1 Magnitude 1 [ENLARGE]
Magnitude 4 Magnitude 4 [ENLARGE]
Magnitude 7 Magnitude 7 [ENLARGE]
These images show the extent to which ambient light can affect our views of the nighttime sky. In the Magnitude 1 chart, the constellation Cygnus is almost completely obscured. In the Magnitude 7 chart, however, numerous stars are clearly visible. (Images courtesy UCAR Office of Education and Outreach.)

Participants in overcast areas who cannot see stars will be able to input data about cloud conditions instead.

Thousands of observers in dozens of countries are expected to take part. Participants may make observations outside their homes or go to less developed areas where more stars are visible.

Bright outdoor lighting at night is a growing problem for astronomical observing programs around the world. By searching for the same constellations, participants in the Great World Wide Star Count will be able to compare their observations with what others see, giving them a sense of how star visibility varies from place to place. The observers will also learn more about the economic and geographic factors that control the light pollution in their communities and around the world.

"Without even being aware of it, many of us have lost the ability to see many stars at night," Ward says. "The Great World Wide Star Count will help raise awareness of the importance and the beauty of the night skies."

Related sites on the World Wide Web 

Great World Wide Star Count
Windows to the Universe


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The National Center for Atmospheric Research and UCAR Office of Programs are operated by UCAR under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation and other agencies. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any of UCAR's sponsors.

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