Living in our urban jungles as we do in the 21st century, we hardly notice them anymore: the stars above. That’s in part because light pollution makes them so very hard to see.
The Globe at Night project is an attempt to raise awareness of the impact of light pollution by having people measure their night sky brightness and submit their observations to a website from a computer or smart phone. The project has been running for the last six years, with people in 115 countries contributing more than 66,000 measurements.
In 2012, the designated measurement dates are March 13-22 and April 11-20. All you need to do is determine your latitude and longitude, go outside about an hour after sunset, and find Orion, Leo or Crux. Compare what you see to one of the magnitude charts the site provides, and report your observation. Not an experienced skywatcher? No problem: the site provides some background information and interactive practice exercises, so you can brush up before heading outdoors.
Why should you care about light pollution? Well for one thing, over-illumination is a good indicator of wasted energy and money. There are also studies that suggest that light pollution may have consequences for human and animal health, in terms of both physical and psychological problems (e.g., stress, fatigue, disruption of circadian rhythms, etc.) I also personally suspect that not being able to see the vastness of the night sky has had an impact on our cultural development. Astronomy used to play a huge role in the daily lives of our agrarian ancestors; it doesn’t factor as much today. If nothing else, first-hand evidence of the sheer number of stars out there helps keep your own life in perspective. Have a look at the Dark Sky reference section for lots of information on the effects of light pollution.
Meanwhile, you might also want to consider making Jasper, Canada your next holiday destination. Jasper National Park has just been designated a “dark sky preserve,” and it’s now the largest such preserve in the world. Not only will you be able to see the stars, but you’ll have a chance of seeing aurorae as well.