IYA2009 Boosts GLOBE at Night to Record Number of Dark-Skies Observations
30 April 2009
The global citizen-science campaign GLOBE at Night 2009 recorded 80 percent more observations of the world’s dark skies than the program’s previous record—including double the number of digital measurements—thanks in large part to active participation and publicity from the network of 140 countries currently celebrating the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009).
Now in its fourth year, GLOBE at Night encourages people everywhere to observe the prominent constellation Orion at least once over a two-week period and compare the number of stars that are visible using their unaided eyes with a series of charts that show how Orion would appear in skies ranging from very dark to very bright skies. The program is designed to aid teaching about the impact of excessive artificial lighting on local environments, and the ongoing loss of a dark night sky as a shared natural resource for much of the world’s population.
The 2009 campaign, held from March 16-28, garnered 15,300 geographically “mappable” measurements of Orion, nearly 7,000 more than the previous record of 8,491 that were contributed in 2007. Only 1 percent of the 15,456 observations in 2009 were “flagged” as not mappable. The percentage of flagged observations was reduced markedly this year thanks to a new online tool that helps identify the country from which the observation originated.
Measurements were received from more than 70 countries in the 2009 campaign, with 17 countries reporting more than 100 Orion measurements. About 73 percent of the total measurements came from the United States (approximately 11,270 observations), including all 50 states and the District of Columbia, followed by Chile (about 900), the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom (both over 200). Other countries reporting more than 100 observations were Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Spain and Turkey.
In addition, 19 countries contributed another 1,474 “mappable” digital measurements using handheld Sky Quality Meters (SQMs). Two-thirds of the SQM measurements were from the US, with nearly 200 from Chile. Romania and Mexico followed, with over 70 and 60 SQM measurements, respectively.
The full data set will be posted soon for download and local use at www.globe.gov/GaN/analyze.html; a map viewer that can compare GLOBE at Night data across the years is already available there.
“There were particularly spirited GLOBE at Night SQM measurement campaigns in the U.S. states of Indiana, Oklahoma and Connecticut, and in the country of Chile,” said Dr. Connie Walker, associate scientist at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, and chair of both the U.S. and international IYA2009 working groups on dark-skies awareness
For example, a campaign in and around Mishawaka, Indiana, led by astronomy outreach coordinator Chuck Bueter, produced 3,400 Orion measurements. Bueter worked with 14 schools in the Penn-Harris-Madison (PHM) School Corporation in northern Indiana to have students answer the question, “How much of the night sky have we already lost?”
Along with Art Klinger, director of the PHM planetarium, Bueter worked with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students preparing them to answer this question.
Nearly 6,500 students in grades 3-8 quantified sky glow across the district through 3,391 visual observations of Orion. A small group of students from each PHM school also measured their local sky glow with hand-held SQMs. After all the classes discuss and interpret the results, teams from each school will build a model out of LEGO® blocks to show visually how much has been lost. A subset of students will then present recommendations to the school district’s energy education manager and to the PHM School Board.
Fourteen schools in Chile took visual and SQM measurements during GLOBE at Night in partnership with Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in La Serena and the Centro de Apoyo a la Didactica de la Astronomia (CADIAS). Dr. David Orellana (director of CADIAS), Daniel Munizaga (staff assistant at CADIAS) and Hugo Ochoa (outreach coordinator at CTIO) worked with the Ministry of Education to identify 14 “star teachers” who excel in science. Even though many of the classrooms were at remote locations, Orellana, Ochoa and Munizaga traveled to the schools to train the teachers and students on how to use the SQMs.
As a result, 793 Orion measurements and 74 SQM measurements were reported from Chile. An additional 112 Orion and 112 SQM measurements were taken by Orellana, Ochoa and Munizaga around CTIO in an effort to monitor year-to-year changes in the night-sky brightness around NOAO observatories.
In Norman, Oklahoma, high school students, their teachers and local amateur astronomers produced a map of nearly 500 SQM measurements that canvassed their city. Local teacher and amateur astronomer Eileen Grzybowski, with students Brittany, Emily and Braden, then made a well-received presentation of the results to their local Environmental Control Advisory Board.
“They want us to partner with them and be the outside agitating voice in the newspapers and elsewhere to put the issue of revising our lighting ordinances front and center,” Grzybowski reported. “They made suggestions as to how the presentation could be revised to make a bigger impact. They want us to obtain pictures taken from the sky down to the Earth from an airplane and pictures of our ground-based sites of high light pollution and dark oases, and they want us to include data about security issues and cost savings. Our next step is to go before the City Council and do the light demo and discuss our preliminary results.”
Three elementary schools in Willemantic, Connecticut, and Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Connecticut. collaborated with national and international partners on the GLOBE at Night program. Their partners included a fifth grade class in Waynesville, OH, a sixth grade science class in Mirimichi, New Brunswick, Canada, a high school class in Slatina, Romania, and a school in Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. In all, their team consisted of 10 teachers and about 150 students.
As with the PHM schools in Indiana, the Connecticut-based team had several training sessions for students and teachers. The first session introduced “light pollution,” Orion, moon phases and how to build a simple telescope. Each classroom then held training sessions on how to record the measurements, access the GLOBE at Night Web site and use the SQM. Also, during the new moon phase, the students practiced using an SQM at home so that they would be ready for Globe at Night. Finally, the schools had a Skype/Bridgit session with Walker, as the GLOBE at Night international coordinator, and that included all of their long distance partners in a final training and questions and answers session.
Other special training in GLOBE at Night and related dark-skies awareness activities delivered to groups such as the “Astronomy from the Ground Up” network of small science and nature centers fostered by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) and the National Science Foundation, 146 amateur astronomers that are part of the ASP-NASA Night-Sky Network, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers, also played a role in the greater participation this year, according to Walker.
Workshops at several science teacher and professional astronomy conferences also helped to broaden audience participation, Walker said. As a partner in the Dark Skies Awareness cornerstone, the International Dark-Sky Association highlighted GLOBE at Night and dark skies outreach at its annual meeting as well with resources online. Using technology to provide a multitude of platforms to fit people’s needs made trainings more widely accessible via online forums, videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and blogs.
More audiences were reached by promoting GLOBE at Night through various list serves such as for IYA, professional and amateur astronomical societies, and Astronomers Without Borders. An educational kit available through the training process, which will continue to be available, provided the coordinator or educator with a simple but effective light shielding demonstration, a Sky Quality Meter, and a CD and two DVDs with resources on dark skies education and GLOBE at Night.
Dark-Skies Awareness is one of 11 global cornerstone projects being supported by the International Astronomical Union’s IYA2009 effort. “Through the International Year of Astronomy, the GLOBE at Night campaign was able to reach a wider and more diverse audience,” Walker said. “Its simplicity in approach and adaptability to different audiences, as well as the access to effective educational resources that it provides, has also helped increase the level of participation. In the coming year, the GLOBE at Night team plans to keep the momentum going and to increase people’s connectivity with astronomy and dark skies awareness.”
The U.S. IYA2009 program is supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA, and by private donations. The American Astronomical Society is the U.S. liaison to the IYA2009 program via the International Astronomical Union. Key U.S. partners include the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
GLOBE at Night is a collaboration between the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, AZ; The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program, in Boulder, CO; the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI) in Redlands, CA; the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in Tucson, AZ; and the Centro de Apoyo a la Didactica de la Astronomia (CADIAS) in Altovalsol, Chile. NOAO is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. (AURA), under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.
For more information on a variety of IYA2009 dark-skies awareness programs, including its three primary star-hunting projects (such as the Great World Wide Star Count from October 9-23), a planetarium show, a presence in Second Life, and joint programs with U.S. national parks, amateur astronomers and some of the greatest environmental photographers in the world, see www.darkskiesawareness.org.
To learn more about IYA2009 internationally, the cornerstone projects, and other activities please visit www.astronomy2009.org. Additional information on the U.S. plans and programs for IYA can be found at www.astronomy2009.us.