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The Dagobah System

Be an Astronomer for a Night!

(Above: Stunning video of what you might see, especially if you're NOT in New York City.)

Are you a stargazer? Want to give it a try? Here's introducing GLOBE at Night, an annual initiative from the hands-on, school-based science education program Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE).

GLOBE at Night is a challenge for anyone with a view of the sky to help study the spread of light pollution across the surface of our planet. Light pollution is the illumination of the night sky caused by artificial light sources here on earth such as streetlights, billboards, floodlights, stadium lights, etc. Quantifying it is important because it affects more than just astronomers. Cities and suburban areas are only going to continue to grow, and with them the amount of outdoor lighting. In addition to washing out the stars at night, light pollution can disrupt both biological and ecological wildlife systems. More importantly it might even impact you, at least the ladies out there, as scientist recently reported finding a link between breast cancer and high amounts of light at night. The Washington Post published an article on this discovery late last month and BPP reported the news as well. This year of the program is an especially critical one as population and census data tell us that more than half the people on earth are expected to be currently living in cities.

I bring this to your attention because there is an astronomical connection here. As I mentioned, astronomers are not big fans of light pollution, which is why most major telescopes are far away from big cities and towns and from most light sources altogether, often in deserts or on mountaintops or both. In fact, the Canary Islands of Spain have passed a lighting ordinance to preserve the visibility of the telescopes facilities located there. The University of Hawaii has a great website dedicated to the importance of reducing light pollution.

Your can help scientists any night between now and March 8 by observing and recording the magnitude of visible stars where you live. Using the constellation Orion, you'll compare how bright the stars are based on sample charts. (Instructions available on the Web will guide you through the steps, so don't be intimidated.)

Then you can share your results online and compare the light pollution at your location with others around the world. It's a global science project! Post what you see with GLOBE and with us, in the comments below. We can make a cool Google map from the results.

Follow these five easy steps and be an astronomer for a night.