International Dark Sky Week is a global event that celebrates the beauty of the night sky, raises awareness of the effects of light pollution, and encourages citizens to take action.
In 2003, high-school student Jennifer Barlow decided she wanted to do something about light pollution. She encouraged residents of her hometown in Midlothian, Virginia to go outside for a spot of stargazing and urged them to take some modest steps to reduce light emitted from their homes.
Jennifer is now a visiting professor at Wake Forest University and her simple idea has flourished into International Dark Sky Week, which is celebrated every April during Global Astronomy Month.
Glow from outdoor lighting obscures our view of the stars. From a city centre location you might spot 100 stars with the naked eye but under a dark sky you could see over 1,000 stars, and perhaps our own galaxy, the Milky Way, stretching across the sky.
Research suggests that light pollution can adversely affect the human immune system and cause disruption to sleeping patterns. It can also have negative environmental effects, such as on bird migration patterns.
The UK has some of the largest areas of dark sky in Europe. If you can get away from bright street lights, you can probably find some lovely dark skies near where you live, perhaps in your back garden, the local park, or out in the countryside.
Dark Sky Discovery - Music Promo
STFC supports Dark Sky Discovery Sites, a nationwide network of places that provide great views and which are accessible to everyone. They have been nominated by local groups and organisations as their top spot to see the stars. The UK boasts over 100 spectacular stargazing sites found across the country.
The Dark Sky Discovery website provides an interactive map showing the position of these sites, and places and venues that host regular stargazing sessions. It also provides resources for getting familiar with the night sky (including a handy printable pocket starchart), suggested stargazing activities, and training and activities for teachers and educators.
So why not throw your first star party this week?!
Dark Sky Discovery - Why We Work Together
We can all help to reduce light pollution. Check lighting around your home and try to angle it down so light does not trespass beyond your property. Only use lights when needed – motion sensors and timers can help with this. And don’t use more like than the task at hand requires.
There are lots of ways to get involved with International Dark Sky Week. Take a leaf from Jennifer Barlow’s book and make a difference this year.
Check out our 60 Second Adventures in Astronomy series to find out more about astronomy:
The Big Bang - 60 Second Adventures in Astronomy
(Credit: The Open University and STFC)